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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Hairspray (Regent Theatre) - 2 hours 40 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)

The spark burns brightly in Hairspray, a delightfully breezy musical with discrimination as its theme.

It is colourful and dynamic, with toe-tapping tunes, smooth moves and a stellar cast, with talent to burn.

The show positively sizzles, bringing frenzied acclamation from an appreciative audience.

Photos by Jeff Busby.

We’re in Baltimore in 1962.

Teenager Tracy Turnblad (Carmel Rodrigues) is small of stature and big boned … and knows what she wants.

She wants to try out for a vacant spot on a teenage musical TV show hosted by Corny Collins (Rob Mills).

The program is sponsored by Harriman F. Spritzer, the President of hairspray manufacturer Ultra Clutch.

It is overseen by self-serving producer Velma Von Tussle (Rhonda Burchmore).

She wants her daughter Amber (Brianna Bishop) – a show regular – to be crowned Miss Teenage Hairspray.

Tracy’s larger-than-life mother Edna (Shane Jacobson) – who runs a laundry business out of their home – is dismissive of Tracy’s ambition.

Not so her father, Wilbur (Todd McKenney), who encourages her to follow her dreams.

The existing performers on the live-to-air program include several from Tracy’s school, Patterson Park High, but when she turns up to audition, they diss her.

Still, that is where she meets and falls for the show’s male heartthrob Link Larkin (Sean Johnston).

While in detention for wearing her hair too high and skipping school, Tracy befriends hip, kind-hearted Seaweed J. Stubbs (Javon King). He shows her his dancing prowess and she is immediately sold.

Tracy can’t understand why someone of his talent isn’t given more airtime on the TV program – that is more than the once a month on what is termed “Negro Day”.

Everything changes after Tracy wins a place on the show, courtesy of turning the head of Corny Collins at a broadcast event, the Sophomore Hop.

Tracy is nothing if not passionate and someone who knows right from wrong.

She decides on a call to arms to protest against the treatment of blacks on the show.

In that, she has the full support of the sassy, strong-willed owner of a downtown record shop – Seaweed’s mother Motormouth Maybelle (Asabi Goodman).

Hairspray is a most impressive, uplifting musical. It is not for naught that it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Its message of inclusiveness continues to resonate and remains just as relevant as when it first appeared as a 1988 film, written and directed by John Waters.

The Broadway musical debuted in 2002, with the first Australian production opening at the Princess Theatre in 2010.

With a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics from Scott Wittman and Shaiman, Hairspray is a winner all the way.

In short, I couldn’t get enough of it.

The show is slick, magnificently choreographed by Jerry Mitchell and features evocative, cartoon style sets designed by David Rockwell.

But above all what stands out is the grand talent on show.

Carmel Rodrigues has a superb, ear-pleasing sound and significant presence as Tracy.

Shane Jacobson is a vocal and comic sensation as Edna, while Todd McKenney is jaunty as Wilbur. A duet between them in the second act is one of the many highlights of the piece.

Rob Mills slips effortlessly into the role of TV host Corny Collins. Rhonda Burchmore revels as the mean-spirited Velma and Brianna Bishop channels her narcissistic daughter with ease.

Asabi Goodman is spirited as Motormouth, while Javon King has a natural graciousness as Seaweed in an eye-catching performance. His dancing is next level.

Sean Johnston charms as Link Larkin.

Also noteworthy is Mackenzie Dunn as Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingelton, who makes the most of every scene she is in.

So, too, Ayanda Dladla as Seaweed’s younger sister, Little Inez.

Donna Lee and Todd Goddard are versatile and memorable as the female and male authority figures in the piece.

Hairspray is a superb production of the highest quality that deserves to be seen again and again. It is up there with the very best musicals of all time.

With original direction from Jack O’Brien, it is playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne.

It moves to Adelaide’s Festival Theatre in December and the Sydney Lyric next February.


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