Sunday, February 26, 2023

HAIRSPRAY - Lyric Theatre, Sydney

Brianna Bishop (Amber Von Tussle) - Bobby Fox (Corny Collins) - Carmel Rodrigues (Tracy Turnblad) and company in "Hairspray"

Direction by Jerry Mitchell (Australian production directed by Matt Lenz)

Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (re-created by Dominic Shaw)

Set Designed by David Rockwell – Lighting Designed by Kenneth Posner

Costumes designed by William Ivey Long - Hair & Wigs designed by Paul Huntley

Sound Designed by Julian Spink – Musical direction: Dave Skelton.

Presented by John Frost for Crossroads Live.

Lyric Theatre Sydney 9th February to 2nd April 2023.

Matinee performance on 19th February reviewed by Bill Stephens. 

Based on a film by John Waters, “Hairspray” opened on Broadway in 2002 and was an instant hit. This is that same production which even after 20 years is as shiny and polished  as a new pin and perfectly recast and performed by a topline cast of some of  Australia’s most experienced  and popular musical theatre performers who share the stage with some talented newcomers likely to become the stars of tomorrow.

Among them is vivacious Carmel Rodrigues, making her professional musical theatre debut as Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager who dreams of dancing on a national TV show. Rodrigues has the audience in the palm of her hand from her very opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” until the rousing finale, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” singing and dancing with such captivating joie de vivre that it’s absolutely infectious.

Shane Jacobson (Edna Turnblad) - Todd McKenney (Wilbur Turnblad)
in "Hairspray"

Completely unrecognisable as Tracy’s adoring and independent mother, Edna Shane Jacobson cleverly sidesteps the temptation to camp it up, instead creates an adorable motherly character who overcomes her own body shape inhibitions to champion her daughter.

No less impressive is Todd McKenney with his warm, supportive characterisation as her husband, Wilber. Their delightful second act duet, “You’re Timeless To Me” had the matinee audience audibly swooning with delight.

Rhonda Burchmore (Velma Van Tussle) and admirers in "Hairspray"

Playing against type, Rhonda Burchmore is both stylish and hilarious as the snippy TV producer, Velma Von Tussle.  Her befuddled response upon being handed a poisoned chalice as a reward for the unearned success of the Corny Collins Show is priceless.

Luxury casting as the star of the Corny Collins Show, Bobby Fox doesn’t have a lot to do, but  brings such style and sophistication to his role as to beggar the question as to why he hasn’t already been snapped up by some enterprising television company.  

And talking of style, keep your eye out for Donna Lee, who plays several characters under the all-purpose label of ‘Female Authority Figure”. She’s hard to recognise, because each of her characters are so different. But here’s a hint; she’s the one that nails every one of her laugh lines with unerring accuracy.

It says a lot about the talent on show in musical theatre in Australia currently that this production can field a cast of talented coloured actors to meet the requirements of the script. 

Todd McKenney (Wilbur Turnblad) - Asabi Goodman (Motormouth Maybelle) Mackenzie Dunn (Penny Pingleton) - Shane Jacobsen (Edna Turnblad) - Carmel Rodrigues (Tracy Turnblad)

Outstanding among them is Asabi Goodman as Tracey’s ally, the unlikely named Motormouth Maybelle, in her fight against racial discrimination. Goodman’s powerful rendition of the big ballad, “I Know Where I’ve Been” almost stops the show.

Another stand-out among the black cast is Javon King who plays a character named Seaweed J. Stubbs. King is a remarkable dancer with an arresting fluid style that signals his sheer love of movement and brings to mind the late, great, Ronne Arnold. Like Arnold, he’s a joy to watch.

Mackenzie Dunn (Penny Pingleton) - Javon King (Seaweed J. Stubbs) 
Carmel Rodrigues (Tracy Turnblad) - Sean Johnston (Link Larkin)
in "Hairspray)

But then, this cast is packed with talent. Watch out for Ayanda Dladla for plays Little Inez; Brianna Bishop as the delightfully self-centred Amber Von Tussle; McKenzie Dunn who’s captivating as Tracy Turnblad’s bestie, Penny Pingleton; and Todd Goddard, another who plays a variety of characters  as the “Male Authority Figure”. All are future stars.

This highly polished production of  “Hairspray”, with its sweetly delivered messages around body image, racial inclusiveness and tolerance, and a catalogue of hummable songs is guaranteed to send you out of the theatre with a spring in your step. Did I like it?  Guess?    

                                                            Images by Jeff Busby

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.