I’m still not a musical lover. But thanks to Simon Burke I actually learn to love some of them. Be afraid, be very afraid… ;)
We are in Baltimore in the 60ies, where being different is still a bad thing and segregation and racism are still very common. But there’s Tracy Turnblad (the brilliant Lauren McKenna), who is different – she’s plump, she’s fun loving and adorably naive and she thinks that everybody should have the chance to just dance together. Her favourite show is the Corny Collins (Tim Campbell and very over the toppish glam – in a good way!) Show and her favourite part of it is negro day. She wants every day to be negro day.
When one of the main dancers of the show drops out ( for, like, nine months),Tracy auditions, only to be laughed off the stage by Amber von Tussle and her producer mother Velma, an ex Miss Baltimore Crab.
But she doesn’t give up. With moves learned from her new black friend Seaweed in detention, she catches the eye of both Corny and the wanna be Elvis Link and is a new regular on the show. When she tries to include her black friends into the all white dance group, they’re all apprehended and land in jail. But in the big finale all is well again: Tracy wins Miss Hairspray and Link commits to her, her black friends are finally integrated into the show and racist von Tussle is put in her place.
Doesn’t sound like much?
Oh but it is.
Not only did the producers manage to get 900 ( nine HUNDRED) kids from 7 to 22 on stage in absolutely riveting choreography. With clever lighting, minimum props and two raised main stages they were able to hold the audience’s focus fixed on the main characters who are able to show off their acting and singing skills.
There we have Tracy, 22 year old Lauren McKenna in her first leading role and she’s killing it. Basically present on stage for almost all the time and singing, her strong voice is a reliable source of joy. She does an amazing job and hers is a name we will have to remember. Wherever she goes next, follow her. She’s amazing.
Obnoxiously racist Velma von Tussle is unashamedly camp played by Amanda Muggleton, who unfortunately suffers from a cold which of course affects her voice. But she is brilliant when she summons her frightened staff with clapping twice and I do believe her when she claims to have a politician in here pocket and damning Polaroids in her safe. Her daughter Amber is unfortunately played by a weaker actress. At first I thought that was a directorial decision, but she actually does lack charisma and stays as bland as she is blond.
Link is the perfect budding Elvis-copy and the weakling Amber first fell in love with. He is good looking enough to carry his playboy/idol role off and good enough to succumb to Tracy’s charme.
Barry Conrad, a finalist in the Australian x factor, shows off his moves as well as his strong voice as Seaweed and is especially sweet when playing with his love interest Penny (Emily Monsma) whose talent for comedy shines. She’s incredibly cute and lovable.
Tim Campbell does a perfect stereotype of a show host, constantly smiling and focused on himself until he starts to fight for his integration ideas and luckily his poster boy good looks, his voice and his talent provide him with the tools to pull that off without a problem.
Christine Anu (the producer of negro day, Motormouth Maybelle) – awesome. Her voice: damn great. She IS soul music. Damn, she’s good.
Now on to the one drag part of the musical. (The one played by the absolututely dreadful John Travolta in the movie, whose lack of acting and singing made a mockery of the part)
Here it’s Simon Burke who dons a dress and does his or rather Edna Turnblad’s roots to look good for the cameras, before she, devoted wife and loving mother, goes out to join her daughter in the fight for equality. Having the best lines and being the comic relief could be enough but Simon does so much more with his part. He conveys the slightly frustrated working mum with no time to care for her appearance just as believable as the glam, self assured woman with a cause and a lot of sequins.
But it’s his voice that makes his portrayal so special (and I’m not talking about his choice to not use falsetto to mock-play a female! I always find that slightly offensive, actually). No, it’s his singing that keeps blowing me away. He simply soars. His ad-libs and ensuing giggles are infectious and despite his (private) claims that he can’t dance he’s really very good at it.
I just wish he’d have a better “husband”. Wayne Kermond, a delightfully pleasant and nice man, comes from Vaudeville royalty and it shows. He strongly reminds me of those old Hollywood vaudeville comedies. Not a bad thing if it fits. Unfortunately it doesn’t in the time set for hairspray. His style is not 60ies, it’s 20ies and 30ies. It also doesn’t help that he’s huffing and puffing through the one song he has. At one point in the show he twirls a cigar like the Marx brothers, for heaven’s sake. too bad his audience isn’t old (or nerdy like me) enough to realise that. I have to say, though, that by the end of the run he had calmed down considerably. A relief, really.