Reviewed by Jasmine Crittenden
In 1962, Baltimore, Maryland, was on the verge of a revolution … in music, civil rights and feminism—much like the rest of the United States. Into this scene enters Tracy Turnblad (Carmel Rodrigues), a teenager with three dreams. The first is to dance on The Corny Collins Show. The second is to do so as part of a racially integrated troupe. The third is to gain the attention of Link Larkin, a singing, guitar-slinging heartthrob (Sean Johnston).
However, each dream faces a challenge. First, Tracy is before her time. Television producers are only interested in slim, blonde women, like Tracy’s rival, Amber von Tussle (Brianna Bishop), driven by her ambitious mother, Velma (Rhonda Burchmore). In contrast, Tracy is a stocky brunette of a healthy weight, from a loving, but cautious, working class family. Second, black performers are banned on The Corny Collins Show. Third, Link is in a relationship with Amber.
Hairspray: The Musical, written by Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics) and based on John Waters’ 1988 film, tells the story of Tracy’s courageous pursuit of her dreams.
Rodrigues, in her professional musical theatre debut, delivers an ebullient, larger-than-life take on Tracy, well supported by Mackenzie Dunn as Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s friend. Bishop is an effective foil as the competitive and arrogant, yet watchable, Amber. Meanwhile, Bobby Fox and Johnston provide charismatic takes on Corny Collins and Link, respectively.
One of Hairspray’s funniest and most entertaining scenes is a duet between Tracy’s parents, Velma and Wilbur, to which Australian musical theatre veterans Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney bring excellent comic timing.
That said, the stand out of the show is New Yorker Javon King, as Seaweed J. Stubbs, whose soaring yet subtle vocals and effortless dance moves risk stealing the stage. Another powerhouse in the vocal department is Asabi Goodman as Motormouth Maybelle, while Ayanda Dladla oozes charm as Little Inez.
Designers David Rockwell (set), William Ivey Long (costumes) and Kenneth Posner (sound) bring the cast to life in dazzling surroundings—dotted with neon lights, retro designs, and bright ‘60s colours. Scenes move at a rapid pace, keeping up with the script and contagiously catchy tunes, beautifully played by the band under Dave Skelton’s direction.
Hairspray is an all-round good night out, which balances a serious exploration of important themes with humour, fun and high energy.
Hairspray is now playing at the Lyric Theatre until 2 April 2023