Left - Jack Chambers and Jaz Flowers. Cover - Jaz Flowers. Photos - David Wyatt
If you’re still not feeling good after the plethora of ‘feel good’ musicals Melbourne’s been treated to recently, then you’d better get along to Hairspray.
With music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, this 60’s era musical has an impressive history. The original Jon Waters film of 1988 became a cult classic and was turned into a multi-Tony award winning Broadway musical in 2002. This was followed by a blockbuster movie version in 2007 starring John Travolta in one of his most memorable performances.
The culmination of this was Saturday night’s triumphant Australian premiere.
When Australian producers Paul Dainty and Joel Pearlman secured the rights to Hairspray, they were also given a license to create a brand new production, unlike a Disney or MacIntosh production where the show is imported lock stock and time-step. Given such licence, the creative team you assemble must be the best.
And they are.
Musical supervisor Max Lambert, choreographer Jason Coleman and designer Eamon Darcy are led by the extraordinary talent and vision of director David Atkins to serve up a massively entertaining and technologically cutting-edge production.
In this Cinderella type tale, Tracy Turnblad (Jaz Flowers) is an ‘ample’ American 60’s teenager living in suburban Baltimore. Her dream in life is to dance on local daytime TV show ‘The Corny Collins Show’. On her journey to this starry destination, she encounters various forms of discrimination, which she feels bound to confront in her own sincere yet rather gormless way. And as in all good musical comedies, these problems are dealt with via some rollicking good songs and a character with the courage of her moral rectitude. But David Atkins’ astute direction never allows the broader themes of discrimination and integration to become lost in all the color and movement.
The instant star of this show is the set. Massive LED screen panels depict the sets and amazing visual tricks in a colorful cartoonish style. It is all so visually stunning that it can at times be overwhelming. But it is a thrilling invention.
Opening night nerves were probably to blame for some overwrought performances, but this is a stage awash with talent.
Jaz Flowers’ performance is beautifully rendered. As the naïve but utterly charming and gutsy Tracy, she takes the audience on her journey with the aid of a great voice, slick moves and some fine acting. It’s a big role, but this lady is up for it from the word go.
Trevor Ashley puts in a star turn as the larger than life Edna Turnblad, making the most of his comic moments and his vocal versatility.
While some of the supporting actors tend to be broad caricatures, others deliver more subtle and nuanced performances.
Esther Hannaford as Tracy’s ‘bestie’ Penny is a scene-stealer. Her nerdy earnestness brings some of the night’s best comic moments and her versatile voice makes her performance a standout.
Tevin Campbell as Seaweed, the lead dancer on the TV show’s ‘Negro Day’ is a consummate performer and a magnetic stage presence.
Cle Morgan as big blond and beautiful Motormouth Maybelle does great things with her smoky bluesy voice, particularly in the number ‘I Know Where I’ve Been.’
As heart throb Link Larkin, Jack Chambers is a star on the rise. A brilliant dancer, he also has the vocal chops to carry this off beautifully. His Link is suitably vain, affable and thoroughly engaging.
The choreography by Jason Coleman is bright, breezy, busy and beautifully handled by this talented ensemble and there are some delightful cameos from within their ranks.
Stephen Amos’s band belt out the variety of styles with gusto. From the boppy 60’s pop to the sultry R and B and Janet Hine’s costumes just add to the visual splendour.
Camp, kitsch and cartoonish, Hairspray is a visual and aural treat.
Just try wiping the smile off your face.
HAIRSPRAY THE MUSICAL
Director David Atkins
Venue: Princess Theatre | 163 Spring St, Melbourne
Dates: 2 Oct - 21 Nov 2010
Tickets: $50 - $145
Bookings: Ticketek 132 849 | www.ticketek.com.au