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Review: Hairspray at The Festival Theatre, Adelaide

Review By Lisa Lanzi


From the leads to every single chorus member, charisma was shining from the stage on opening night in Adelaide, as was fun, talent, and sheer joy. A great way to spend New Year’s Eve, 2022!

Hairspray the musical, set in 1962 Baltimore, gathers a number of still topical themes under its hypnotic spell. Body positivity, segregation, privilege, class, bullying, racism, nepotism, and corruption. While all of these are treated somewhat lightly (it is a musical after all), issues of segregation and the status of the ‘haves and have nots’ is at the forefront of the narrative. America may not have official ‘rules’ any longer around the segregation of folks by colour but that doesn’t mean racism has ceased to exist in our sometimes sorry world.


As idealist teen Tracy Turnblad who strives to belong and become a TV star, Carmel Rodrigues is perfection in her professional stage debut. Vocally, this young performer is a delight with not one wrong note, her acting and movement skills guiding the vivacious Tracy to a big life. WAAPA graduate Mackenzie Dunn appears as Tracy’s quirky and loveable bestie Penny Pingleton. Dunn’s vocal and emotional range was astounding and I will definitely be watching her future career with interest.


Undoubtedly, Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney’s chemistry as wife and husband team was a highlight. Jacobson’s Edna Turnblad was compelling with exactly the right mix of compassion, humour, style and sass, … and THAT singing voice! I would attend Hairspray again just to witness his genius. McKenney is a relaxed and eternally happy Wilbur with his signature smooth physicality. ‘(You’re) Timeless to Me’, their second act duet is a show-stopper, and rightly so.

A newer addition to the Hairspray cast is the acclaimed Bobby Fox who takes on the role of TV host Corny Collins with effortless charm, warmth, and loads of talent. As heartthrob and wannabe recording artist Link Larkin, Sean Johnston has much to offer: on point vocals, excellent acting and great chemistry with his on stage love, Tracy. Ayanda Dladla also claims attention as Little Inez with crazily good stage presence and musical talent to match.


Brianna Bishop and Rhonda Burchmore are a snippy, hilarious mother/daughter duo resplendent mostly in acid yellows. Bishop’s viperish Amber Von Tussle, the eternal thwart to Tracy’s ambitions and good deeds, endows the character with a certain delicious villainy; dramatically and vocally, this performer was wonderful. Burchmore is a visual feast as the conniving Velma Von Tussle, emanating a few ‘Cruella’ airs, but her vocals were not quite up to the role, a worrying huskiness creeping into the tone and some strength lacking in the belts.


It is rare in Australian musical productions where roles can embrace so many people of colour in the cast AND enable them to shine. Asabi Goodman in fine voice gives us a riveting Motormouth Maybelle and Javon King amazes as Seaweed J Stubbs with powerhouse vocals and dance moves, and admiring gasps from the audience. If space permitted, I could happily go on naming the entire ensemble, such was their talent, commitment, and importance to the production’s success.


The captivating original choreography by Jerry Mitchell of Kinky Boots fame (re-created by Dominic Shaw) is impossible to look away from. Inventive, rich energy and variety, and with enough references to the period to satisfy without being formulaic. Musically, this show is a winner. Every song is ‘singable’ and most will have you wanting to jump out of your seat and dance along with the exuberant cast. Music and arrangements from Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman will remain favourites for a long time. Unpretentious but dynamic set design (David Rockwell) is also a feature in this musical. Sets and scenery float and roll in and out, projection and appropriate lighting adding depth and height. Colourful and appropriately OTT costumes by William Ivey Long work well referencing both the era and some cartoonish vibes as appropriate.


Greeted with a standing ovation, Hairspray with its elegant and tight direction takes over Adelaide’s Festival Theatre for four weeks. If you need an injection of fine musical theatre, laugh-out-loud asides, and some worthwhile ‘ear-worms’, just GO!


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