Review: Hairspray (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 5 – Apr 2, 2023
Book: Thomas Meehan, Mark O’Donnell (based on the film by John Waters)
Lyrics: Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
Music: Marc Shaiman
Director: Jack O’Brien
Cast: Brianna Bishop, Rhonda Burchmore, Ayanda Dladla, Mackenzie Dunn, Bobby Fox, Todd Goddard, Asabi Goodman, Shane Jacobson, Sean Johnston, Javon King, Donna Lee, Todd McKenney, Carmel Rodrigues
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review

Tracy is a big girl, and because it is 1962, she was never meant to appear on TV. When Corny Collins looks past conventions to recognise Tracy’s talents and casts her on his variety show, Tracy quickly uses her new platform to instigate change on national television, by forcing the integration of Black and white Americans on screen. Whether one sees Hairspray as yet another “white saviour” narrative, or a story that is about true allyship, the musical’s feelgood charm is hard to deny. Characters and the story from John Waters’ original 1988 film are colourful and adorable. Songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman from this 2002 Broadway creation are irresistibly soulful. Perfect in so many ways, this is a show that is likely to keep returning for generations to come.

Performer Carmel Rodrigues is completely delightful as Tracy Turnblad, full of vibrancy as the spirited teen. Her legendary mother Edna is played by Shane Jacobson, who although never really convinces as the divine maternal figure, impresses with his vocal prowess. Scene-stealer Javon King’s immense talent and unequivocal star quality, only makes us want the part of schoolfriend Seaweed to be much bigger, even though he is in no way an insignificant element of the show. Asabi Goodman as Motormouth Maybelle, may require a bolder sense of confidence, but her solo rendition of  “I Know Where I’ve Been” is certainly accomplished, and an important statement about the unfaltering efforts of Black activists, even when their white counterparts claim the limelight.

It should come as no surprise that Tracy is a good feminist. The fact that she faces prejudice every day, from inhabiting a physicality deemed contemptible by so many, could only mean that she must understand the deficiencies of how things are run. Tracy knows also, that it is not only one’s size that could be weaponised against people. We see her fighting for Black rights, because injustice is simply injustice, no matter how it manifests. Good feminists must continue to hold the door open, once they have entered the room, and they must never forget that no one is to be left behind.