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IRRESISTIBLY UPBEAT

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HAIRSPRAY – The Broadway Musical
Book by Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan | Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman
Based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters
Orchestrations by Harold Wheeler
Arrangements by Marc Shaiman
Directed by David Sidwell
Musical Director: Victoria Brown
Choreographers: Sonja McGirr-Garrett & Joel Benjamin Hewlett
Executive Producer: Jason Wade
By arrangement with Hal Leonard Australia Pty Ltd, Exclusive agent for Music Theatre International (NY)

at Founders Theatre, Hamilton
From 22 Feb 2013 to 9 Mar 2013

Reviewed by Gail Pittaway, 24 Feb 2013


Light, bright and boldly colourful, this treatment of teen life in Baltimore in the 1960s and of Tracy Turnblad's optimism in achieving her goal is simply gorgeous. Every part of the production is tight and crisp, from the wonderful cast, to the exceptional dancing (thanks to Sonja McGirr-Garret and Joel Benjamin Hewlett) and on to the whacky sets and effective LED screen as back-drop, displaying cartoon images reminiscent of the early days of watching black and white TV.

David Sidwell's expert direction runs the piece at a fast pace, while managing to bring out nuances of humour in the book and the lyrics that can surprise. In fact the timing of movement, lines and gesture are flawless in this production. Although set in 1960 and the time of racial segregation and with a genuine message of hope for an end to prejudice against differences of size and colour, the story retains a simplicity and optimism that works, for its very levity.

This irresistibly upbeat show is given a high-tech production thanks to a consortium of music theatre practitioners in New Zealand who collectively share the sets and costumes for touring shows. The Hairspray neon dress set for the last act is fabulous, as is the simple jail fly of asymmetrical bars, more like a veranda railing from the era. The plastic world of the TV studio, of the Corny Collin's Show, the teen bedrooms and Motor Mouth records are all suitably bright, with simple cartoon-like camera and props, all reminding us that this is fun, not real; but also that things like prejudice can be seen as just a bit silly, too.

Courtney Mayall holds the role of heroine Tracy and the core of the story with sweetness but more than a hint of body in that voice, projecting an energetic and sustained reading of the character. Her best friend, Penny Pinkleton ( Ruby Lyon), is equally appealing in her big glasses and bubble gum, as both girls move from ‘not' to hot'.  

Awhimai Huka as Motormouth Mabel gives a spine-tingling rendition of blues number “I know where I've been”, backed by velvet-voiced Dane Moeke from New Zealand's Got Talent . Mabel iscountered by an equally impressive performance from Lisa Wiles as Velma Von Tussle, the villainess.

Other stand outs in this production full of them are Roy Snow and Mike Murphy Scanlon as Tracy's parents, Wilbur and Edna, adorably deplorable in their taste, triumphant in their love; Joel Benjamin Hewlett as Seaweed, whose hips seem made of material other than bone, they are so sinuous and busy! Then there are Corny (a suave Nick Wilkinson) and his dancers, including the hysterical Amber (Cassidy Garret) and heart-throb Link Larkin (Henry Ashby), and the black ensemble including a fabulous girl trio the Dynamites, straight out of Tamla-Motown. Finally, filling in all the parts of male and female authorities, mostly for laughs, are Tim Pollock and Mandy Faulkner.

As a musical this would be nothing without a tight orchestra and Victoria Brown conducts the small band expertly, from behind the screens onstage. Regardless of technology and sets shared with other companies, it all had to be assembled, adapted and tested. Hamilton Operatic Society should be proud of the team of musicians, dancers, actors, singers, choreographers, technicians and designers who have had to work together with David Sidwell to bring this joyful show to life.
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