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.

Review: Cinderella (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Oct 24, 2022 – Jan 29, 2023
New Book: Douglas Carter Beane
Lyrics and Original Book: Oscar Hammerstein II
Music: Richard Rodgers
Director: Mark Brokaw
Cast: Daniel Belle, Bianca Bruce, Tina Bursill, Josh Gardiner, Shubshri Kandiah, Nicholas Hammond, Ainsley Melham, Matilda Moran, Silvia Paladino
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s exquisite songs for Cinderella were originally written for a 1957 television broadcast, and had taken more than half a century, to reach the Broadway stage. This 2013 adaptation with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, transposes the old tale for the contemporary stage, carefully incorporating updates and modifications, to make Cinderella palatable for twenty-first century sensibilities. The amalgamation of the classic score with a modernised narrative, proves a delightful opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with the most familiar of stories, only with a lot less misogyny.

Our poor girl Cinderella is no longer incapacitated and desperate. She is now well-read, smart, intuitive, and maybe even a little ambitious. Performed by Shubshri Kandiah, she is also hugely endearing, and incredibly graceful. God forbid, she might even be a little feisty. Aside from this surprisingly refreshing take on the famous character, Kandiah’s singing and dancing are resplendent, effortlessly transporting us to somewhere magical, and wonderfully innocent.

Prince Topher too has become more human. Given charming humour by the dashing Ainsley Melham, who matches in performance ability with Kandiah; the two look to be a pair made in heaven. Their chemistry is the stuff dreams are made of, and we want their union to succeed as much as they themselves do. Also very impressive is Silvie Paladino, who brings incredible skill and a delicious campness to the unforgettable role of Fairy Godmother. Paladino’s presence is so strong, as is her voice, that she makes her enormous dresses seem a natural fit.

The excellent transformation that occurs in this newer Cinderella, is not that the pauper becomes the princess, but that young girls can now see a version of the heroine being valued for all the right things. The aspiration is no longer just to marry well, but to become intelligent, resilient, kind and generous. This should always be the lesson to teach our young, should we decide to keep telling this story for centuries to come.