Matt Byrne Media. Arts Theatre. 5 Jul 2012

Matt Byrne’s Hairspray is an over-the-top, sensually excessive, and uplifting musical comedy hit.  He is starting with top material.  Hairspray first appeared as a John Waters’s film in 1988, and was cinematically re-created in 2007, based on the 2002 Broadway musical which you simply must see to believe.

In the early days of television, tubby Tracy Turnblad emerges from her geek family to star on Baltimore’s Corny Collins dance show where she falls for the Elvis-like Link Larkin.  Her frequent banishments with fellow high school delinquents put her in touch with early 1960s Afro-American musical culture.  Naivety and a big heart prevail as she brings racial integration to the tube. 

Byrne livens up Waters’s already hysterically funny and ironic script with loads of sexually charged innuendo – all for the furtherance of your enjoyment.  Choreographer Sue Pole (with assistant Shenayde Wilkinson-Sarti) must have been busier than a one-armed cop directing traffic on visitor’s day at a nudist camp – there are fifty-nine (repeat: 59) in this whopping cast – and she corralled the cats into dancing machines with lively and precise unison.  I thought all the talent was seen recently in A Chorus Line, but there is plenty more where that came from.


Marvelous Michelle Davy’s opening number as the indefatigable Tracy T was exemplary of the high energy that never let up, with huge rounds of applause after every song.  Musical director Rodney Hrvatin had everyone singing from the same song sheet.  While the energy and kaleidoscopic swirl of colours, bodies and even set was mesmerising, there were many stand-out performances too numerous to mention but here’s a few.  David Gauci’s gaudy Mommy Turnblad was simply Devine.  Brady Lloyd’s Link Larkin has the Nicholas Cage charm appended to a pulsating, pivoting pelvis that garners much of Tracy’s gaze.  Joshua Penley was flawless as the shiny Corny Collins.  Hat’s off to Shelley Crooks, Kat Sachse, and Danaé Lloyd.  Igor Egiraneza is one of Byrne’s latest finds (and by the way, Matt is great for giving new and young people a chance to shine in musical theatre).  This guy is cooler than a lying banker at a Parliamentary inquiry with a body just itching to dance.  David Gauci’s set works wonders in the living room, as a TV show background, a black hipster’s hang-out, or a phantasm of the times in colour, graphics and motifs. 

Production quality was very high with bits of set arriving at the right times and excellent follow spot.  The costumes are magnificently chromatic, textured, tight or tent-like as needed.  Rodney Hrvatin’s Hair Spray Orchestra was as flawless as the opening night performances on stage.  My only criticism is that the song reprises stretched out the night a bit.  A big bravo!

David Grybowski

Where: The Arts Theatre followed by the Shedley Theatre