Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

08/06/2016 - 18/06/2016

Production Details

Big musical. Big comedy. Big hair! 

The musical with a heart as big as a beehive. 

Hairspray is the multi Tony Award winning musical based on the cult 1988 John Waters film Hairspray. The songs include 1960s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues.

In 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, plump teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream is to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program. When Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight, and meets a colorful array of characters. Tracy seeks to right the injustices of segregation on the TV show using the power of music and big hair, and takes the audience along on a joyous, feel good musical ride that will have you reaching for a bumper can of “Ultra Clutch” hairspray.

In 2003 Hairspray won eight Tony Awards out of thirteen nominations. It ran for over 2,500 performances, averaging an unheard of 99% capacity, for the first two years of its Broadway run, and went on to numerous international tours. The London production was nominated for a record-setting eleven Laurence Olivier Awards, winning for Best New Musical and in three other categories.

In 2007 Hairspray was released as a hugely successful movie with a stellar cast that included Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, and most famously John Travolta in an unforgettable drag role as Edna Turnblad, Tracey’s overweight mother and agent. “Hairspray the Movie” remains one of the most critically and commercially successful movie musicals of the last decade, alongside Mamma Mia!

Winner of 8 Tony Awards, and 4 Olivier Awards, including Best Musical

At the Isaac Theatre Royal
Season Dates – June 8 – June 18, 2016
Evening performances at 7.30pm.
Saturday Matinee 2 p.m. June 11 and June 18
Sunday Matinees, 4 p.m. June 12.
Tickets starting from $47.50. Special School Age Student rate of $22.50 for June 11 Matinee.
(Price include GST and a $2.50 ITR Heritage Levy) 
All bookings at Ticketek 0800TICKETEK   

Theatre , Musical ,

Sweet without being sickly and righteous without being worthy

Review by Charlie Gates 14th Jun 2016

This gloriously uplifting, crisply paced and bright musical is a triumph that bounces with vim and energy. 

Christchurch theatre company Showbiz’s production of hit Broadway musical Hairspray is sweet without being sickly and righteous without being worthy. 

The show, adapted from the 1988 John Waters film, is set in early 1960s Baltimore and tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a young woman with dreams of appearing on the local television pop programme The Corny Collins Show. When she is rejected for not fitting in with the channel’s “white bread” conformist image, she is introduced to her city’s African American community and starts a campaign to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show. [More


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Frothy frivolity misses the message

Review by Erin Harrington 10th Jun 2016

Showbiz Christchurch’s productions are huge affairs that belie the company’s amateur status, incorporating exceptionally high standards of production design, a studio orchestra as well as a live band, talented performers, high price points and well over a hundred people involved on and off-stage.

Such scale comes with big expectations, and there is so much to like about the size and the scope of Hairspray, a show set in Baltimore in 1962 and inspired by John Waters’ camp 1988 cult classic film.

It centres on overweight white teenager, Tracy, who dreams of dancing on her favourite show, The Corny Collins Show, and who can’t understand why black music, people and dances aren’t allowed on regular – that is, white – television. It’s a show that focuses on the plight of outsiders, celebrates the people who live on the margins of the mainstream, and offers a progressive celebration of diversity, all set within the context of the Black Civil Rights movement and the shift towards integration.

Unfortunately, this Hairspray is a candy-coloured confection stripped of all its original subversion.

This is not true of its core actors. Lucy Porter, as the plump, big-haired and ever-optimistic Tracy Turnblad, offers an absolutely terrific performance that ably ties together the character’s desires, foibles and ambitions. Porter is a gifted comic actor with a marvellous belt and she is such a pleasure to watch that each time she sings, or wrinkles her nose, or gives a cheerful middle finger to convention, I feel a little joy.

Her performance is matched by that of Antony Saywell, who plays her fat, agoraphobic mother, Edna. Where almost all of the characters in this show are rendered as slight caricatures, Tracy and Edna are rich, fully formed, sympathetic individuals with strong emotional arcs. Each of these outsiders comes to terms with their dreams and celebrates their identities. I particularly like how Saywell pitches Edna; he offers a sensitive and contained performance that slowly escalates into absurdity, so that by the end of the show, once Edna has found her confidence and her inner goddess, he’s taking full advantage of the fabulous, draggy possibilities of the character.

I am equally taken with the performances of some of the supporting principals, especially Ailis Oliver-Kerby as the goofy Penny Pingleton, who comes out of her shell once she falls in with a black boyfriend, Terry McCartan’s cheeseball TV host Corny Collins, and Rosa Garcia-Night’s deliciously snarky queen blonde bitch Amber von Tussle.

These performers head a large ensemble of singers and dancers who are directed by Leigh Evans, whose energetic and sometimes comic choreography is the key driving force in the show. 

A large backstage choir augments the performance of the on-stage singers and dancers, and all are supported by a very tight band – all shaped beautifully by musical director Richard Marrett.  

The show has a clear, coherent design – oh, the frocks! those wigs! the set! – that combines the pastel colour palette that lingered from the late 1950s into early 1960s with the warmer, bolder tones that emerge later in the decade. 

In this sense it is a really terrific aesthetic package, although I am yet to see a show that incorporates an LED drape in a manner that successfully combines the cool sharpness of that sort of a lighting source with the softer warmth of more traditional theatre lights. 

But then there’s the casting. 

The irony of the cutesy-pie 50s throwbacks The Nicest Kids In Town, TV host Corny Collins’ in-house dancing troupe, is that they are also The Whitest Kids In Town and – in the case of a few – the most racist kids in town. With this in mind, I can’t get my head around a production that can’t see that staging a show about integration, and that spends as much time with its black cast members as its white ones, sees fit to have an almost entirely white cast.  

I feel squiffy enough about the casting when it’s apparent that performers of Māori and Pasifika descent have been given a good once-over with some Thin Lizzy and some eyebrow pencil to fit the bill, but this also extends to Pākehā members of the cast. An early incident when Little Inez isn’t allowed to dance at the front of the Corny Collins troupe because of her colour is lost on my companion who doesn’t realise that the very white actor (Faith Gunn) is meant to be very black. 

However, by the time R&B record producer Motormouth Maybelle (Lou Days), the host of ‘Negro Day’, makes it on to the stage I’m shrinking so far down into my seat it’s uncomfortable.

Lou Days is a powerful performer who offers the best vocal performances of the night. Her extraordinary rendition of the gospel-flavoured anthem ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, which engages most overtly with the pain and the hope inherent in the struggle for black civil rights, has the people in the row in front of me on their feet, but I can’t deal with a song that begins “There’s a light / In the darkness / Though the night / Is black as my skin” being sung by a white woman in a spray tan.

It’s a casting choice that’s mortifyingly tone deaf and almost completely at odds with the point of the show. I can’t get my head around why Showbiz Christchurch would think it ethical to programme a show that they obviously couldn’t cast appropriately, especially as it means that other signifiers of blackness – movement, speech patterns, and so on – have to be heightened to sell the characters, so that their caricatures are tainted with more than a century’s worth of history of white people dressing up as black people.

If you were to be really generous, as a friend was, you could perhaps make the case that this is all about identification and the performance of identity, but I think that that’s bullshit.

I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the performances of the large cast, for this isn’t their fault – it’s the fault of the people who cast the show; who in their arrogance or blindness thought that this wasn’t an issue. Sure, some of the performances (and accents) are inconsistent, and there are frequent issues with clarity – sometimes due to muddy diction, sometimes due to mucky sound levels – but together the ensemble work to deliver an energetic and upbeat show that the audience absolutely loves. Given the youth of many of the cast members, some of whom are still in high school, I’m generally really impressed with much of the presentation. And yet…

Hairspray will do well because it’s uplifting and funny and catchy and held together by some terrific performances. Unfortunately, it emphasises movement and choreography over thoughtful direction, and an uncomplicated ‘good night out’ at the expense of its sassy and seditious heart through what appears to be a complete and utter lack of awareness about how the presentation and casting of a show might function politically and ideologically – all despite the emphasis in the programme on Mo’town, civil rights movements, integration and segregation, and so on. 

I had heard a comment from someone else that they thought the show was cartoonish, and this is entirely right. Its bright, poppy pastels and its broad caricatures offer a deliciously twee presentation, but falls into the realm of frothy frivolity, rather than honouring the show’s camp origins and serious social message.

The original John Waters film, and even the original musical and its film version, are camp: subversive, wry, and interested in making a point. Camp, in its knowing, wink-wink theatricality and its delight in surfaces and the slipperiness of identity, Hairspray plays with the boundaries of taste, identity and decency to highlight and challenge the restrictions of the sorts of taken-for-granted social and sexual roles that are imposed upon the marginalised.

This show isn’t camp. Instead, this sort of shallow cartoonishness might taste good in the short term, but it’s a bunch of empty calories and it’ll rot your teeth.


James Levy June 15th, 2016

Great review thank you Erin, really thoughtful. A white little Eva...gawd. Getting a lot of stick from the idiocracy on, does anyone know how the other companies in the "Consortium" handled the racial casting issues? This season is the last gasp of the touring set and costumes delayed due to the "Quake.

Erin Harrington June 11th, 2016

Kia ora Showbiz team –

I didn’t find the casting offensive; I was incredulous.

With regards to your talented cast, I should have used the term ‘fair-skinned’ rather than ‘white’ when referring to performers (cf. characters), as they mean and imply quite different things. I’m very sorry for the sloppiness on my part, especially if it has caused any offense.

That said, the need expressed here to offer a roll call of ethnicities to indicate, perhaps, a degree of ‘authenticity’ or equitability reinforces the idea that you’re either white or you get put in the ‘other’ pile. While I don’t have the programme in front of me at the moment, I also don’t recall being asked to suspend my disbelief at all for the ‘white cast’ / The Nicest Kids In Town, especially with regards to the sorts of makeup that’s obviously been applied, although I am happy to be corrected if this is incorrect.

I am very surprised at the comment in the rights information re: Edna being played by a man. Drag and the sort of racial pageantry I’ve commented on are antithetical to one another; one is a form of performance with an enormous political and emancipatory component that’s employed by a marginalised group to spit in the face of systems of inequality and highlight the inherent performativity of gender and sex roles, and the other, well, isn’t. Falling back on ‘well, this is what they said’ is a cop out. Even considering the practicalities (and necessary evils!) of stage makeup, I wonder where the line is between ‘heavy spray tan’ and ‘colouring … anyone’s face’.

I don’t believe for a moment that there has been any malice in the staging of this show, but there has been a good degree of thoughtlessness in the rationale behind it, and a lack of anything more than a superficial understanding of the issues addressed through the show’s rich content, form and cultural and historical context.

The issues that inform this aren’t unique to this production, but speak to broader issues about representation and the responsibilities that companies have that have been happening around the country. Even just off the top of my head I can think of the arguments about the ‘colour-blind’ casting of the reading of a new play about Ai Weiwei in Auckland; the elision of racial context in St Margaret’s College’s production of Dreamgirls; the issues around the lack of women in the production team of last year’s excellent That Bloody Woman; huge issues and anger about lack of work written by women and people of colour (and the knock on effects of casts that skew massively towards white men) in professional theatre companies; the ethical issues involved in staging The Mikado; and so on. (Further afield, the ongoing clash between 'golliwogs take their image from harmful historic stereotypes and minstrelsy' and 'aw but gollies are just lovely wee toys and I had one as a kid and I'm not racist' is instructive; a rose by any other name...)

None of the complaints re: these issues is to do with the quality of the shows, but rather the nuanced realities of staging shows in Aotearoa New Zealand, and a sense of critical awareness about what happens when people from a cultural majority tell stories for other groups of people, or that incorporate their perspectives, or – as has happened here - that draw from histories of representation that are better off consigned to history. It’s not about well-meaning intent, because intent and outcome aren’t the same thing; it’s about thinking respectfully and thoughtfully about reception and the communities in which we participate and live.

Showbiz is a highly respected company that stages some very, very good shows, but that level of profile and respect also comes with a set of responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is to be mindful about the complexity of cultural and critical context.

As a friend who works in film and arts management said to me yesterday, “if you don’t have a black Dorothy, you don’t do The Wiz”.  

Nga mihi, and best wishes for the rest of your season.


Michael Bayly June 11th, 2016

Dear John and Erin, 

Well we have stirred up an interesting debate. It is alive and well on FB, and some valid points are being debated – so you could say that in many respects this show is serving its purpose of encouraging discussion and debate and throwing a spotlight onto matters of casting in New Zealand. There are some massive inconsistencies in many of the arguments, and rules are being made up as they are applied in some cases, but that is part of the process.

I am choosing not to get involved currently on FB, as I have made a statement regarding our intent and do not want to throw oil on the flames.

Please find attached a photo of the black cast in Hairspray. As per the directors/ writers guide for international productions we have a hugely diverse cast. They are certainly not all white actors playing black roles. Motormouth – who has been isolated in many of the discussions as very white, is a staunchly proud NZ Maori woman of strong Ngai Tahu descent. She is greatly respected and supported by the Ngai Tahu community for her work in the performing arts and education. She is one of the finest soul singers in the country ( to my ears) and her stage mannerisms are very much Lou Days. A number of comments on FB have said that her skin tone is too light to be Maori, which as I sure you would agree is a very contentious stand for anyone to take.

The remainder of the black cast as you can see are Maori, Polynesian, Asian, African and one dark skinned European. No blackface has been used. Stage lighting makes their complexions look lighter – but they are most certainly not an all white cast playing black roles.



Michael Bayly June 10th, 2016

Dear Erin, 

I am very sorry that you have found the casting our production offensive. It is so far from our intentions to in any way diminish or reduce the historic issues of racism and Civil Rights in America ( or anywhere else in the world). The universal theme that underpins this story is tolerance and acceptance - that is never OK to discriminate against anyone for reasons of size, gender, race, religion or sexual identity. There have been thousands of productions of this show all over the world, including school shows where all roles have been played by all ethnicities, ages and genders. Especially in schools outside of America the show has been used as the basis of education around areas of the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 40s/50s/60s, and used to enlighten people of all cultures of the history of struggle and repression in America. The writers and producers of the original Hairspray musical, and John Waters the writer/director of the movie acknowledge and encourage the show to be cast with a wide diversity of ethnicities, or else it would never be performed outside America, as many countries could not cast the black characters within their community, and never be given the opportunity to learn and discuss the issues that are raised. Our black cast are of a rich and diverse heritage. Motormouth, Seaweed and Little Inez all identify as NZ Maori in their family ancestry, the three Dynamites are performed by actors that identify as NZ Maori and Korean. the remaining ensemble of black characters in our production are of Maori, Polynesian, Filipino, African and yes, one is of European descent. 

Below is an extract from the rights document we sign to get access to performance rights for the show - 

When we, the creators of HAIRSPRAY, first started licensing the show to high-schools and community theatres, we were asked by some about using make-up in order for non-African Americans to portray the black characters in the show.  

Although we comprehend that not every community around the globe has the perfectly balanced make-up (pardon the pun) of ethnicity to cast HAIRSPRAY as written, we had to, of course, forbid any use of the coloring of anyone's face (even if done respectfully and subtly) for it is still, at the end of the day, a form of blackface, which is a chapter in the story of race in America that our show is obviously against.  

Yet, we also realized, to deny an actor the chance to play a role due to the color of his or her skin would be its own form of racism, albeit a "politically correct" one.  

And so, if the production of HAIRSPRAY you see features folks whose skin color doesn’t match the characters (not unlike how Edna has been traditionally played by a man), we ask that you use the timeless theatrical concept of "suspension of disbelief" and allow yourself to witness the story and not the racial background (or gender) of the actors.  Our show is, after all, about not judging books by their covers!  If the direction and the actors are good (and they had better be!) you will still get the message loud and clear.  And hopefully have a great time receiving it!

Thank You,

Marc, Scott, Mark, Tom & John

Everyone in our production is wearing makeup and wigs ( for every single character, not just the black roles). No one has significantly changed their ethnicity by means of makeup. By the nature of being on stage all actors are wearing thick foundation that is not an exact match to their makeup free skin. Yes, many of them have a change of hair colour by dye or wigs. In the case of someone like Little Inez, the actor playing that role has been bleach blond for many years. For the show she has returned her hair to its more natural colouring. Her father is European, her mother is Maori. Lou Days is very proud of her Maori heritage, and identifies very strongly as a NZ Maori woman. She is not significantly dark skinned, but that in no way defines her ethnicity – and we would not chose to alter that with excessive makeup.  As I said at the outset,  I am extremely sorry if our production offended you - but our intent is to shine a light on how wrong it is to judge anyone, for any reason, by the things that separate them from the mainstream, and deny them the opportunity for a happy life devoid of prejudice.

I absolutely resect your opinions, and wanted you to know that we have considered this carefully, and are very much aware of the racial and social context of the show. We have cast this with a desire to tell a story of tolerance, and done so following the clear directions of the original writers and producers.


Michael Bayly

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