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Review: HAIRSPRAY at Melbourne's Regent Theatre

Review: HAIRSPRAY at Melbourne's Regent Theatre

4 STARS - From the moment the show opens with "Good Morning Baltimore" to the standing ovation worthy finale of “You Can't Stop The Beat”, Hairspray will put a smile on your face and have you dancing in your seat.

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Todd McKenney, Asabi Goodman, Mackenzie Dunn, Shane Jacobson and Carmel Rodrigues
Photo by Jeff Busby

Hey Melbourne, welcome to the 60's! It's time to put on your most colourful and crazily patterned outfit, tease your hair big, bold, and beautiful, and head on down to the Regent Theatre. Hairspray is back and this time it's the original Broadway version of the musical! Having grown up listening to the original Broadway cast album, it was a sheer delight for a theatre nerd like me to see the original version of Hairspray here in Australia. Seeing this production's opening night performance which coincided exactly 20 years from Hairspray's Broadway premiere was also a big fat cherry on the top! While some elements of the original version do now feel slightly dated and some of this production's casting choices don't always allow Hairspray's vibrant characters to shine as brightly as one would like, you can't deny that this show is just so much fun. From the moment the show opens with "Good Morning Baltimore" to the standing ovation worthy finale of "You Can't Stop The Beat", Hairspray will put a smile on your face and have you dancing in your seat.

Hairspray first came into existence in 1988 as a comedy film that was written and directed by Baltimore born John Waters. Waters based Hairspray's storyline on the The Buddy Dean Show which he had religiously watched growing up. While watching the television show Waters witnessed the racial segregation issues that surrounded the show and Hairspray's story can be seen to portray a fairytale ending to the actual events that occurred. Notably as well Hairspray, which had a PG rating, was also a departure from Waters' early transgressive cult films, which included in 1972 the highly controversial Pink Flamingos.

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Rhonda Burchmore and cast
Photo by Jeff Busby

In 2002, first in an out-of-town Seattle tryout and then on Broadway, Hairspray opened and became an overnight success, running for over six years on Broadway and winning eight Tony awards, including Best Musical; Best Book of a Musical, by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan; Best Original Score, with music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman; and Best Direction of a Musical, with direction by Jack O'Brien. Since opening on Broadway multiple productions have been mounted across the globe, including the highly popular 2007 film musical version, the original Australian production in 2010 which had a different creative team to the original Broadway version, and in 2016 a new American television adaptation (Hairspray Live!), which was aired live on NBC.

In this latest Australian production, Jerry Mitchell's effervescent original choreography, which has been re-created by Dominic Shaw, shines brightly. Mitchell's work remains relevant and is performed excellently by the ensemble who ensure it is jam packed full of energy and pizzazz. The original direction by Jack O'Brien and direction by Matt Lenz does have a bit more of a hit and miss effect, particularly in assisting an Australian audience to recontextualise America in the 1960's. Similarly, David Rockwell's set design, while fun and clever, does seem a little dated for a 2022 audience. Happily however, William Ivey Long's Tony Award winning costume design remains deliciously camp, and is vibrantly full of fun, pattern, and lots of colour.

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Shane Jacobson & Todd McKenney
Photo by Jeff Busby

This production of Hairspray also features an impressive line-up of established Australian performers, which include Shane Jacobson as Edna Turnblad, Todd McKenney as Wilbur Turnblad, Rhonda Burchmore as Velma Von Tussle and Rob Mills as Corny Collins. While Mills, who is naturally suited to playing the role of Corny Collins, nails his delivery, Burchmore who is also well suited to playing Velma Von Tussle, doesn't quite land the delivery of her character. Jacobson, who one cannot deny is a talented comedian and performer, on this occasion doesn't seem to embody the essence required for the 'larger than life' role of Edna Turnblad. His performance seems to be lacking the camp upbeat style of comedy that this role requires, and his American accent delivery is less than desirable. His comedic love duet with the excellent McKenney as Wilbur Turnblad in "(You're) Timeless to Me" does help to redeem his first act performance and was a lot of fun to watch.

The real highlights of the evening were Mackenzie Dunn as Penny Pingleton and Javon King as Seaweed J. Stubbs. Everytime Dunn and King belted out a tune, or in King's case a dance move as well, the onstage energy significantly lifted. Both Dunn and King excel in their performances. As well, Carmel Rodrigues did a stellar job in holding the whole show on her shoulders as Hairspray's protagonist, Tracy Turnblad. Wow can this girl sing! At only 23, what a great role for Rodrigues to make her professional musical theatre debut in, as this was the role she also played in her high school production of Hairspray! At the curtain call, when the significance of what Rodrigues had just achieved seemed to become apparent to her, you couldn't help but just want to jump up on the stage and give her a big congratulations hug. Rodrigues clearly has a big future ahead of her.

Hairspray is currently playing at the Regent Theatre. For more information and to book tickets visit hairspraymusical.com.au

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Mackenzie Dunn, Javon King, Carmel Rodrigues and Sean Johnston
Photo by Jeff Busby
Regional Awards


From This Author - Josh Stent

Josh has had a passion and love for the Arts ever since seeing his first musical The Secret Garden at age 5. Originally from New Zealand, Josh graduated from The McDonald College of Perfor... (read more about this author)


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