Written by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Directed by Callum Mansfield
Presented by Harvest Rain Theatre Company
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
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Hairspray is one of those shows that connects with people of all walks of life. It features minorities, the underdogs, ordinary folk, and people of diverse natures. It follows the story of a young girl named Tracy Turnblad who dreams of being on The Corny Collins Show.
Despite the fact that she is ‘plus-sized’ her determination in the face of humiliation does not waver, and she gleefully auditions for the show after a part becomes available – much to her mother’s disapproval. Tracy is no ordinary girl, however. In addition to wanting to be on the show, she also believes in integration of the coloured and Caucasian members of the studio.
As this play is set in the 60s it features content about the segregation of black and white Americans. The Producer, Velma Von Tussle greatly disapproves and sees to it that Tracy doesn’t succeed.
Nevertheless, when Corny Collins himself sees Tracy in action he allows her the part on the show. Using her newfound position, Tracy stages a coup d’état and attempts to get the coloured members of the studio seen on television more often. After this transpires, her plan is thwarted and Tracy, her mother, and all the other protest participants are thrown in jail. Link Larkin, the love interest of young Turnblad releases her from solitary confinement and with the aid of Motormouth Maybelle, a big, blond and beautiful African-American woman, stages another coup which is successful.
So, after that rather convoluted explanation; Tracy comes out on top and everybody wins, except for Velma and Amber – the villains of the piece, of course.
Now this is indeed a ‘Big Fat Musical’. With hundreds upon seemingly endless hundreds of young ensemble performers in addition to the leads, this show no doubt deserves its moniker of ‘biggest production of Hairspray ever’.
The space at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre was fitting for a production of this size. This also gave a less intimate feel than what the show could have had, however it would be nigh impossible to fit a cast that large into a smaller venue!
The energy of the show was good, despite the enormity of the space and carried through the narrative with ease. The animations at the back of the set helped lend a brightness and corniness to the imagery that befitted the style and setting of the musical.
What I liked most about this musical were the diversity of its themes. Despite the fact that the story is set in a time since past, everything was relatable and current, from body positivity to teens falling in love for the first time to racial divides and more. They really send out a message to people of all ages that love is all you need in the end – one shouldn’t waste time on judging others.
Through this production the hard work of every one of the actors shone through. Lauren McKenna as Tracy - truly one of those stars - created a commendable performance, with a powerful voice. Simon Burke as Edna, her mother, Wayne Scott Kermond as the quirky Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s father, Dan Venz as the noble Link, Amanda Muggleton as the villainous Velma Von Tussle and Christine Anu as Motormouth Maybelle were just a few of those actors that made the show genuinely entertaining.
The audience also got involved at the end, with some standing up and dancing in their seats. The set and lighting design were appropriate and neat, and whilst the sound system appeared to have a few glitches, with the band sometimes being louder than the actors, it operated smoothly and generally allowed the audience to hear clearly what was being said or sung.
To conclude: Hairspray was an entertaining and amusing production of enormous proportions. The actors had a good amount of energy that carried through the show from start to finish and allowed the audience to be sucked into the crazy Turnblad family and the happenings that occur in their lives.