It's the musical with a big heart and a contagious beat, stunning audiences and breaking box office records. This month, Matt Byrne Media gets set to welcome Adelaide to the 60s with a new, vibrant production of Hairspray.
The 2007 feature film truly brought the Broadway blockbuster into the spotlight; but the story of Tracy Turnblad and her huge hair has been loved by audiences since the 1980s. It is John Waters' original conception that director and producer Matt Byrne draws upon in his new production.
"This production owes more to the original spirit of the 1988 movie version, than David Atkins' hi-tech version or the John Travolta movie. I want the emphasis on the characters and the gloriously unfashionable Baltimore."
The costumes and sets are of course spectacular, but Byrne's attitude towards the staging of Hairspray will guarantee that the serious themes it explores shine through its extravagant surface. Byrne's determination to do justice to the story began with the casting process.
"We had a huge turnout for auditions, and I ended up with a cast of 60. [It was important that] I also had true black performers in the cast."
Such a story must be difficult to convincingly portray, but Byrne has great confidence in his cast and creative team. To ensure the themes and characters were embraced, the cast were encouraged to discuss social change, acceptance and "the message of tolerance and integration that creator John Waters preaches".
The cast features some of Adelaide's finest music theatre performers. An understudy to Trevor Ashley in the original Australian production, David Gauci will reprise his role as Edna Turnblad, truly adding his stamp during the Adelaide premiere. The cast is led, however, by the "unstoppable" Michelle Davy, who was "born to play the role of Tracy Turnblad".
Davy is no stranger to the Adelaide stage, having most recently performed in Urinetown and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She admits that Tracy is her biggest challenge yet, and is thrilled to have even had the opportunity to audition for the role.
"The singing and dancing is absolutely draining. We did some fitness and exercising over the rehearsal period to help cope with the physical strength needed to perform the songs in the show. "
Tracy brings the "heart and soul" to the show, and really epitomises its ideal. She is one of the many characters in Hairspray who are marginalised by the attitudes of their community; but ultimately ascends the bigotry, exceeding all expectation.
"People can learn a lot from Tracy Turnblad. My advice to anyone who is being bullied is that at the end of the day, you just need to believe in yourself. People can say hurtful words and do nasty things, but most of the time they are only hiding behind their own insecurities" says Davy.
It is a poignant sentiment. It is these empowering messages combined with the spectacular music and dance that create such a feel-good, uplifting musical.
Judging by the standard and success of the recent shows produced by Matt Byrne Media, Hairspray is certainly 2012's must-see production. Byrne continues to challenge the local industry "to aim high, think big and be passionate about their work", and his latest venture is a testament to this.
Michelle Davy admits she might need a short break after the months she has spent as Tracy, but for Matt Byrne the ball keeps rolling. Next year heralds "the biggest musical in MBM history...even bigger than Hairspray".
Hairspray opens at the Arts Theatre July 4, 2012. Further details»