Twenty years to the day since Hairspray first opened on Broadway, this original Broadway production finally made its Australian premiere at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District to a very appreciative opening night audience.
Big, bold and beautiful, this much-loved story is brought to life in a lavish, high quality and high energy production. Much of the success of this Australian production is the perfect cast.
Headlining this production of Hairspray are Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney, The pair are good mates off stage. and this natural chemistry radiates through their characters as married parents, Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. Jacobson is virtually unrecognisable as Edna Turnblad, and brings a sweetness and charm to the role. McKenney proves he is still very much the triple threat performer, in a role that allows him to show off his dancing prowess. Jacobson and McKenney’s performance of ‘(You’re) Timeless To Me’ is a highlight of the show and the opening night audience loved every moment.
Rob Mills is the ideal Corny Collins. Despite the name, this character is anything but corny, and is ready to make a stand for equality and diversity. Mills brings considerable warmth and integrity to this role, proving yet again, why he remains in demand in musical theatre.
Rhonda Burchmore is delightfully villainous as Velma Von Tussle, and Brianna Bishop is perfectly cast as her daughter, Amber.
Asabi Goodman brings down the house with her powerful performance of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ as Motormouth Maybelle,
Mackenzie Dunn is brilliant as Penny Pingleton, starting out as an awkward and somewhat goofy teenage girl who blossoms into a confident young woman in love. Sean Johnston is a very likeable Link Larkin. Ayanda DLadla is delighful as Little Inez and Javon King is exceptional as Seaweed J Stubbs.
Donna Lee and Todd Goddard both do a splendid job as “Female Authority Figure” and “Male Authority Figure”.
But the real star of this show is Carmel Rodrigues, making her professional musical theatre debut as Tracy Turnblad, Rodrigues is confident and charming, bold and sweet, sassy and loveable. She brings an incredible energy to the character and from the moment she appears on stage she IS Tracy Turnblad. This petite pocket-rocket can belt out a tune, as well as showing restraint and sensitivity in her performances like a seasoned performer, and my gosh, she can dance! Carmel Rodrigues belongs on the stage and I hope we see much more of her in future shows.
Hairspray has a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics/arrangements are by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman. The music is expertly brought to life under the musical direction of Dave Skelton. Choreography by Jerry Mitchell is dazzling and executed with precision by an exceptional ensemble cast who exude an infectious energy that is palpable from the audience. The quality set and costumes create the perfect 60’s vibe.
Despite the 1962 Baltimore setting, this musical remains as relevant as ever. While some of the lines, and themes, are at times quite shocking, they serve as a reminder that we still have a long way to go to becoming a truly welcoming and accepting society.
Closing out the show, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ is a toe-tapping big production number that had the audience leaving the Regent Theatre with huge smiles on their faces. Hairspray is a feel-good musical with a big heart that will leave you wanting to come back again for more. .
Hairspray is currently playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District ahead of seasons in Adelaide and Sydney.
For more information: https://hairspraymusical.com.au/
Photo credit: Jeff Busby