Opera House, Wellington

01/08/2012 - 11/08/2012

Production Details


It’s 1962, and pleasantly plump Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad has only one desire: to dance on the popular Corny Collins Show. When her dream comes true, Tracy is transformed from social outcast to sudden star, but she must use her newfound power to vanquish the reigning Teen Queen, win the affections of heartthrob Link Larkin and integrate a TV network – all without denting her ‘do! 

Don’t miss HAIRSPRAY, Broadway’s musical-comedy phenomenon that inspired a major motion picture and won eight 2003 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. As The New York Times says, “If life were everything it should be, it would be more like HAIRSPRAY. It’s irresistible!”

Live comedy doesn’t get any bigger than this!

The Opera House, Wellington, New Zealand
1 – 11 August, 2012


Melissa Peters:  TRACY TURNBLAD
Raef Mitchell:  WILBUR 
Bridget Connor:  PENNY PINGLETON 
Shauni Hannah:  AMBER VON TUSSLE 
Caleb Jago-Ward:  LINK LARKIN 
Nick Purdie:  CORNY COLLINS 
Vernon J. Prime:  MALE AUTHORITY 
Sheree Moanaroa:  LITTLE INEZ  

Booth Singers 
Alice Russell, Charlotte Gartrell, Cindy Randall, Georgina Carter, MaryLouise Thomas, Natalie Moreno, Pernille Osborne, Benjamin Emerson, Ben Paterson, Jason Henderson, Stephen Ward 

Amy Stonnell, Jesse Badger, Kate Bruce, Paul Williams, Sophie Scott-Maunder, Sam McLeod, Zoe Kee-Sue Wilson, Zac Warmouth, Awhimai Cassidy Fraser, Cade Taylor, Elvisa Robb, Jonathan Morgan, Phaedra Brice, Manaia Glassey-Ohlson, Stephanie Jowett, Ziyanda Matshe, Brittany Wallis, Ben Wombwell, Emma Walker, Matt Sime, Hope Bartley, Natasha McAllister, Rachel Day  

Wardrobe Manager:  Terry Guillemot
Stage Manager:  Keri Mills
Executive Producer:  Michael Highsted  

Bight, bold musical well worth enjoying

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 07th Aug 2012

Following on in the tradition of such musicals as Grease, Fame and High School Musical, Wellington Musical Theatre’s current production of Hairspray is big, bright, bold and very loud.  

From John Waters’ 1988 movie of the same name to a Broadway musical in 2002 and then another movie of the musical in 2007, the story of tubby teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on a local TV show in Baltimore in 1962 has garnered numerous awards with many hit productions along the way.

And it is easy to see why. Catchy if not necessarily memorable tunes and high octane dance routines abound, and even though the middle of the second half does drag a little, it come across with all the pizzazz and style of a well put together show.

It also has a lightweight attempt at social commentary about the injustices of American society in the 1960s when Tracy, having won a role on the show and becoming an overnight celebrity, decides to launch a campaign to integrate the local black community into the show. 

Director Simon Coleman, musical director Michael Nicholas Williams and choreographer Leigh Evans have pulled out all the stops with this young and vibrant cast. But it is the colourful cartoon style sets and bright costumes along with the visual graphics of the production team that give the show its edge. The large screens covering the entire back of the stage that light up with an array of colours and images complement the acting extraordinarily well. 

Without exception the acting is spot on, both in style and energy.  The part of Tracy Turnblad would appear to be made for Melissa Peters who, through her singing, dancing and acting, puts her heart and soul into conveying the lengths the underdog has to go to achieve her dream.  Sam Benton does well as Tracey’s mother Edna, giving the character some individuality in not emulating the role made famous by John Travolta in the movie. 

In competition with Tracy is Velma Von Tussle using every dirty trick in the book to make her daughter win. Julie O’Brien relishes the part of Velma, making her as vile and obnoxious as possible.

All of which adds up to making Hairspray a great production that, although overly loud at times, is nevertheless very entertaining and well worth seeing. 


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A great toe tapping night out with heart and integrity

Review by Jo Hodgson 03rd Aug 2012

The anticipation for this show is evident in the auditorium on opening night right from the get go, with cheers and whoops as musical director Michael Nicholas Williams takes his place in front of the band (which I discover later consists of four excellent ‘pit’ players and a very slick back track studio-recorded orchestra from Christchurch who are part of the consortium of musical theatre societies bringing Hairspray to NZ audiences).  

The pace and energy in this brilliantly cast show directed by Simon Coleman is set from the first ensemble number ‘Good Morning Baltimore’, led by the show’s heroine, teen Tracy Turnblad. Melissa Peters’ Tracy is an indomitable force of bubbling energy. Although at times pushing the voice a little with presumably first night excitement, she has claimed this role as her own.

Described as ‘pleasantly plump’, Tracy and her best friend Penny – played by Bridget Connor with priceless gawkiness and humour – are dreaming of appearing on the local TV dance show, The Corny Collins Show where auditions have just been announced. Tracy turns up to audition the next day but is thrown out, because of her weight, by show producer and ex beauty queen Velma Van Tussle.

Julie O’Brien, a veteran on this stage, plays the self absorbed and single minded Velma with huge strength of character and voice. 

In school detention for her ‘monumental hair do’s’ (or don’ts), Tracy meets Seaweed J Stubbs, one of the Afro-American dancers from the show’s ‘Negro Day’ (1960s America is still rife with segregation laws). Seaweed – played by a grinding and jiving LeRoi Kippen – teaches her some new moves which she tries out at the Sophomore Hop, gaining the attention of show host Corny Collins and a place on the show!! Nick Purdie has the right smooth moves and voice for this role.

From here Tracy gains the wanted attention of heart throb Link Larkin (suitably crooned by Caleb Jago-Ward) and the unwanted attention of Velma’s jealous daughter Amber (a spirited Shauni Hannah).  

Tracy meets Seaweed’s mother and host of Negro Day, Motormouth Maybelle (a sassy and soulful Jessie Maguren), and is inspired to rally everyone, including her parents, Wilbur (an easy-going Raef Mitchell) and Edna (hilariously played in drag by Sam Benton) to march against the TV station’s racist policies in a bid to integrate the dancers.

Hairspray started life in 1988 as a film by American actor and comedian John Waters, and only gained modest success. But when adapted for stage in 2002 it became an instant hit, winning many awards. An updated film version was made in 2007 starring the likes of John Travolta. 

Having seen the 2007 film version I have to admit to feeling a little apprehensive about seeing the stage show with its feel-good story full of cheese and youthful energetic froth, quite in contrast from the reality of the civil rights movement struggles of the time. Yes it’s a social commentary of perseverance in the face of adversity but the movie had left me feeling that this struggle was glossed over.  

However, tonight’s performance leapt off the stage with sheer exuberance and talent making it impossible not to get caught up in the changing landscape for the youth of the early 60s as they rollick through the musical score by Marc Shaiman, aided by the stunning costumes from Australia’s Janet Hine, make up and fabulous stylized wigs by Edyta Koscielecki, and the exceptional set designed by Harold Moot.

An amazing LED screen backdrop adds to the colour fest and beautiful lighting design by Talya Pilcher, as set pieces roll and fly in and out with almost seamless precision under the watchful eye of stage manager Keri Mills.

There are many memorable performance moments in this show: Raef Mitchell and Sam Benton play their roles with tear-making hilarity in the song ‘You’re timeless to me’, with Benton dancing in Edna’s fluffy slippers with the grace and lightness of Ginger Rogers.

The company and cameo roles are played with huge vigour, the dancing is phenomenally energetic, with Leigh Evans once again choreographing and inspiring this young cast to rise to her very high standards. 

The singing, aided by a chorus of booth singers, is strong and excellently rehearsed by Michael Nicholas Williams. Diction was for the most part very good but sound balance and excitable vocal pitch sometimes hindered the clarity losing some of the punch lines at times.  

In spite of its froth and comedic lightness I found its heart and integrity as the past is remembered and saluted in the number ‘I know where I’ve been’, sung with great conviction and pride by Jessie Maguren and company.

So if you want to have a great toe tapping night out watching the up and coming young talent that this city has on offer, then set your do and head along to the Opera house because you just ‘Can’t stop the Beat’.


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