Monday, August 27, 2012


Book by Mark O'Donnell, Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman

Presented by Canberra Philharmonic Society

Reviewed by Len Power

One of the most appealing aspects of the musical, ‘Hairspray’, is how well the composers have captured the sound of the early 60s.  It’s almost hard to believe that the songs for the show were written in the 21st Century.

‘Hairspray’, based originally on a 1988 cult movie by John Waters, opened as a musical on Broadway in 2002 and became a smash hit.  Set in Baltimore in the early 1960s, it’s all about a young, overweight girl called Tracy Turnblad and the impact she has when she manages to get into a Bandstand-like TV show, even though she isn’t the current American ideal in the looks department.  The show is light and funny on the surface, but it makes a plea for acceptance of people who are different as well as an anti-discrimination statement against black people.  Add the infectious music by Marc Shaiman and you have a show that is a real audience-pleaser.

Jarrad West, the director, has assembled a mostly excellent cast with Krystle Innes a standout as Tracy Turnblad, singing and dancing to perfection.  Amy Dunham, as Tracy’s best friend, Amber, is wonderfully funny with excellent comic timing and fine singing.  Will Huang, Zack Drury, Vanessa De Jager and Steven Bardwell all give top performances.  Max Gambale, last seen as Captain Smith in ‘Titanic’, shows his versatility by playing Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad.  Max plays Edna as a real person and is both funny and touching in a well-rounded performance.  In the black roles, Jenny Lu galvanises the audience with her song, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ and Nyasha Nyakuengama is a delight as Seaweed.

This is a heavy dance show and the choreography by Amy Fitzpatrick and Nikole Sklavos captured the era perfectly with great imagination, especially in the ‘I Can Hear The Bells’ number.  There was no simple choreography in this show.  The cast had to be able to dance and they met the challenge superbly.

The large musical score was performed strongly by the orchestra under the baton of Rose Shorney who brought out every aspect of the 60s sound brilliantly.  The simple stage settings by Peter Karmel were appropriate but not very interesting and the kitchen set seemed a bit cramped for the actors.  Costumes by Christine Pawlicki were colourful and right for the period but some cast members need to be a bit more vigilant before going onstage.  Crooked petticoats and needlessly creased costumes spoil the look the designer is striving for.

Jarrad West has done an excellent job with this show, making it bright, funny and lively as well as bringing out the anti-discrimination messages.  Many people will have seen the movie, but ‘Hairspray’ is one of those musicals that works better on the stage than as a movie.  Give yourself a fun night out and see this delightful show.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 26 August 2012