Hairspray Adelaide 2022 23John Frost for Crossroads Live. Adelaide Festival Centre. Festival Theatre. 31 Dec 2022


Psssssssst! Psst! Psst! Daw-ling! You look lurv-ly in this new doo! Just a bit more of this Hairspray to hold it all together. Psst! Psst! Oh! Don’t you look absolutely fabulous!


And indeed they did. Opening night of Hairspray on New Year's Eve at the Festival Theatre was the way to get things started in 2023. And why not? It’s the 20th anniversary of the Broadway production which ran for 2642 performances and won 8 Tony awards including Best Musical. Hairspray first Psst! as a John Waters film in 1988 and Psst! again in a 2007 film based on the musical. It must be fun to do because the films featured fetching talent like Divine, Sonny Bono, Debby Harry, John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer.


We forget what the world was like in 1962. Maryland, specifically Baltimore, a long way from the Deep South, but a Union slave state during the Civil War, had its problems. Hairspray manages to tackle the big issues of racism, obesity, body image, and gender bending with vacuity, frolic and fun. Fish-out-of-water misshapen Tracy Turnblad wants to make it on the TV dance show, which she does, and applies her new fame to the cause of de-segregation. This is done by enrolling an eclectic band of supporting characters sporting colourful costumes and whacky hairdos. In rom-com tradition, love is in the air.


Producer John Frost for Crossroads Live has assembled a celebrated clutch of Australian and overseas talent for touring this year. Carmel Rodrigues was made for the role of Tracy. She’s only 23 and still remembers her lines from when she played Tracy in a high school show. Her resume shows nothing but hard work to make her professional debut in this production. Brassy tacky, her Tracy is a dynamo of shimmy and song. No cliché about energy could possibly describe her love of performance. Bravo!


The other main cast members are Australian musical theatre majesty. Straight man Shane Jacobson brings his vast experience to bear in the vast girth of the traditionally cross-gender casted role of Tracy’s mum. The 1000 times he played the role of Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz made Todd McKenney a household name. On the other side of prime, McKenney is sweet-as, and his goofing around with Jacobson in the song Timeless to Me was a smash with the audience. Bobby Fox is all of Franki Valli - which he played over 850 times – and four times World Irish Dance Champion. Here he also channels Teen Angel from Grease in his portrayal of Corny Collins. Bravo! Rhonda Burchmore’s stunning career still has legs in the most literal sense. Black American, now Queenslander, Asabi Goodman brings huge dignity to her role as spiritual leader of the numerous black American characters. Her impressive gravitas may stem from her other job as a chemical engineer and her roles in the actors’s alliance. And boy, can she belt out a note! Definitely an exothermic reaction. Those playing the next generation down with Tracy are terrific. A stand-out were the dance moves and voice vibe of New Yorker Javon King. Bravo!   


No expense was spared to physicalise the humour in all departments – colour, costumes, wigs, sets, lights, more lights, more costumes, props, big props, ridiculous gimmickry, satirical asides, all singing all dancing non-stop not much light and shade just full throttle energy and over-the-top sixties pop. What’s not to like? Director Matt Lenz did all this according to the script and with his own inventions. The orchestra under musical director Dave Skelton kept it all in sync. The audience returned the love with an instantaneous standing O. Bravo!


PS The program is big on bio and full of photos but omits the song list.


David Grybowski


When: 31 Dec 2022 to 28 Jan 2023

Where: Festival Theatre