Review by Greta Doell
Everything you’ve heard is true.
The new Melbourne production of Hairspray at the Regent Theatre is a delight.
If you don’t know the musical Hairspray- where have you been? Set in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, the musical follows Tracy Turnblad’s quest for fame on the teen dance TV show The Corny Collins Show, where her crush Link Larkin and the popular, skinny, white kids of her high school dance the after-school hours away. A huge fan of integration, Tracy becomes all the more acquainted with the racism that runs rampant in Baltimore when she lands in detention and meets Seaweed and his friends, all African-American, talented dancers who are only permitted on The Corny Collins show on ‘negro day.’ Being overweight and dancing to the beat of her own drum, Tracy is also an outcast. But the group quickly join forces to take on The Corny Collins Show and anyone who stands in the way of their dreams, busting some killer dance moves whilst they’re at it.
This musical is a classic for its iconic soundtrack. ‘’How is EVERY song that catchy?” we kept saying after the show. You can’t help but sing along. Another thing we kept saying throughout the show was “This is really good!” I took my mother to see the new Melbourne production, not only because Hairspray is beloved by any age group, but also because she was keen to see Shane Jacobson as Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad. It is clear Jacobson’s casting in the dame role was a major marketing point for the production. And it worked. Jacobson did not disappoint with both his wonderful singing voice, filled with vibrato and power, and his comedic stage chemistry with Todd McKenny, who plays husband Wilbur Turnblad. The two are a well-matched pair, bringing out the best in each other and they elicited endless laughter, whoops, and cheers from the audience. But the crowd was already on fire from the start, which is a credit to the exuberant performances of the talented cast.
Rob Mills (Corny Collins) and Rhonda Burchmore (Velma Von Tussle), both musical theatre veterans, did not disappoint with their charisma and ease on the stage.
Mackenzie Dunn (Penny Pingleton) and Javon King (Seaweed J. Stubbs) were also a highlight of the show, delighting us with their chemistry and adorable interactions. I couldn’t take my eyes off either of them as Dunn’s voice brought the house down, and King’s dance moves made us all swoon. I’ll be following both of their work from now on, that’s for sure.
Asabi Goodman as Motormouth Mabelle, mother to Seaweed and DJ of Negro Day, was a powerhouse with her vocals. You need to be, playing such a crucial role that is the production’s voice of the 60s Civil Rights movement. Goodman holds her own and is well cast, as they all are. So much so, that I was a bit bummed whenever her songs ended, because I just wanted to keep listening to her sing.
But it was the leading lady Carmel Rodrigues, a newcomer to the musical theatre stage, that was the star. You might recognize her as a finalist from The Voice Australia, and lucky for us all that the Voice’s loss is our gain. She dances, acts, and sings beautifully, lighting up interactions with her scene partners but also commanding the stage as she belts out the iconic songs of Tracey Turnblad when she is alone. I hope this isn’t the last we see of her on our musical theatre stages in Australia.
On the 20th anniversary of the show’s Broadway debut, this production commemorates what Hairspray has always been. It is catchy, upbeat and silly. Whilst there are moments where some freshness is added- I couldn’t take my eyes off the extra choreography that Jerry Mitchell has added to the show, filled with snappy wit to punctuate the comedy- this show doesn’t necessarily need to do anything that new. There were some stunning visuals with the silhouettes of elegant dancers, and hints of Aussie humor that are ever-present in Australian mainstage musical productions. But it’s clear from anything you hear or see about Hairspray in Melbourne that you’re getting the classic you know and love. Whether you’re coming for the Aussie stars in the show, the amazing songs or beloved story, Hairspray has something in it for all ages.
It was fitting that it ended with an immediate standing ovation and people literally dancing in the aisles. Go see it. It’s the fun night out you’re expecting it to be.