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January 4, 2023

Review: Hairspray at The Festival Theatre

What a way to ring in the New Year at the fabulous Adelaide Festival Theatre, watching the opening night of Hairspray!

Based on the 1988 film, written and directed by John Waters, this revival is true to the original Broadway version.

A dramatic departure from Waters earlier works, the film was a moderate success, however, became a cult film in the 90s.

In 2002, the film was adapted into a Broadway musical of the same name, which won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2003.

In 2022, Hairspray was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry as being ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’

Hairspray is an American musical with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, with a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Set in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, the show follows self-proclaimed ‘pleasantly plump’ teenager Tracy Turnblad as she pursues stardom to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show.

When Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes an overnight celebrity and rallies against racial segregation.

An incredible score, characters and story, Hairspray’s themes are still relevant today, addressing racial prejudice, freedom of expression, body image and femininity, acceptance, discrimination, activism and ultimately reconciliation.

The famous opening number ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ with its superb choreography and vocals, set the tone for the night, and we knew we were in for a show of extreme professionalism and raucous fun!

Director Matt Lenz and Choreographer Dominic Shaw understood the assignment, with incredible stagecraft, direction and dance sequences throughout – not a misstep to be had!

Set and lighting by David Rockwell and Kenneth Posner, respectively, took us back in time with incredible colour, innovative set changes and effective lighting techniques complimented by the superlative costume design by William Ivey Long.

The stars of the show were the extraordinary principal and ensemble cast.

Javon King, as Seaweed J. Stubbs, played the kind-hearted and hip dancer and son of Motormouth Maybelle with love and a sense of purpose.

Playing Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s slightly dorky, but devoted best friend was Mackenzie Dunn – an unbelievable talent with pipes to match! Her scene with Seaweed as he rescues her really showed her range – both vocally and physically!

Brianna Bishop brought the bratty, eye rolling and selfish Amber Von Tussle to life, along with Sean Johnston who played the teenage heartthrob Link Larkin to a tea.

Irish crooner Bobby Fox as the slick, polished Corny Collins was terrific and had the audience cheering with his rendition of ‘The Nicest Kids in Town’.

Theatre royalty, Rhonda Burchmore played the villainous, scheming Velma Von Tussle with perfection – her growl and comedic timing impeccable.

Wilbur and Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s loving parents, were brought to life by the magnificent duo of Todd McKenney and Shane Jacobson.

McKenney brought the goofy and encouraging, and Jacobson turned on the drag [and the vocals!], especially in their riotous duo ‘(You’re) Timeless to Me’, which brought the house down with their chemistry, comedic antics and COD break up.

An absolute stand out for me was Asabi Goodman as the sassy, strong-willed owner of a downtown record shop, Motormouth Maybelle. Whenever she opened her mouth, glorious sound and vocal prowess came out. Her performance of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ had the audience begging for more!

The star of the show and making her professional debut was Carmel Rodrigues as teenager Tracy Turnblad, who dreams of fame and fights to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show.

She singlehandedly carried the show, with her charm and energy and her vocals were spot on in every single song. She was beautiful and believable, and I can’t wait to see where her career takes her next.

With high energy, thrilling choreography, brilliant vocals and a timeless message, this show is not to be missed!

Catch it before they Madison their way outta Adelaide!

5 Stars


Lia Loves.


Lia Loves
Lia Loves
Theatre. Dance. Culture. Events. Follow her adventures as Adelaide's premier theatre buff, arts contributor, educator and ambassador!

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