Hairspray: The Musical – in Melbourne!
A leek writes’ Arts correspondent in Melbourne, Australia: Lemon Custard is thrilled to be reporting on the latest musicals to hit the city recently.
Being at Hairspray: The Musical as a theatre critic helped me feel slightly above the rest of the audience (figuratively, though- as I was in the stalls section of the theatre). I came in a crisp white shirt, and pinstriped trousers, with a notebook and pen – very official. I took a leaflet about Hairspray as I went in. As I took my seat, I hoped that someone would ask about the reason of the notebook. I had a response all ready; “I’m very glad you asked me that, Sir/Madam. I am the Melbourne theatre critic of this blog” – handing over card with web address on it – “and I am here to review Hairspray: The Musical. Would you mind if I asked for your opinion at intermission? Thank you.” No such luck, though.
I would describe Hairspray as a serious show that isn’t serious. Set in Baltimore in 1962, it is the story of a plump teenage girl –Tracy Turnblad’s – ambition to dance on T.V. show ‘The Corny Collins Show’. She is rejected because of her size, but, in true musical theatre form, dances brilliantly later in the presence of the show’s host, and is accepted, no formal audition necessary. Tracy also falls in love with another dancer on the show, and even ends up winning a pageant. So far, a pretty bouncy, typical, sort of show.
Hairspray, however, carries a strong, clear, message on the subject of acceptance of differences, and especially racism. It’s the sort of performance that lifts your spirits, without failing to deliver – clear as a bell – its message. Tracy’s character battles segregation, and has an attitude that we should all have the right to be included in mainstream society, regardless of colour – or in her case, weight.
Despite this, Hairspray: The Musical – as you can already gauge –could not be considered a preachy kind of show and few sections of it are really very serious. It is full to bursting with the bright colours of the ‘60’s, energetic dance numbers, comedy, and music that causes you to spend most of intermission whistling.
Another aspect of Hairspray that one can hardly ignore, having seen the show, would be its innovative approach to sets. Or lack of sets. Used to set the scenes wherever they take place, and add a right big splash of colour, there are LED screens of the hugest variety imaginable. And not any old huge LED screens – these rotate, move about, join and separate, and overall give the show a kaleidoscope effect. Fittingly, the stage’s set up is done up very interestingly; with large dial shapes in neon along the edges, and a large aerial shape near the ceiling. I must confess that I puzzled over this decorating style until I read in a magazine article that Hairspray’s stage was made to look like the television sets of the early 60’s. This ignorance could be put down to my youth. In any case, the aforementioned LED screens are undoubtedly one of the most remarkable aspects of the show. Your eyes jump to them, due to their size and brightness, and they can make the head spin rather. In several points in the show, two or more scenes are going at once in different areas of the stage, which the screens handle well, though it can get a bit much; people prone to headaches from bright colours, movement, and light should be careful. I see the LED screens as being sometimes a great asset to the show, and sometimes a big problem. I do have to say, though, that the human/screen interactions (e.g. opening curtains, going though doorways) are nothing short of genius, and the show would lose quite a bit of its cheerful, cartoon-like appeal without this unusual medium for scenery.
Hairspray: The Musical is a show with a serious message, that would soften any bad mood, and make anyone smile. Full of great spirit and pretty amazing talent. I would rate it 8/10.
Hairspray: The Musical is currently running at The Princess Theatre, Melbourne and closes on May 1st.
In the words of one of its song titles: Welcome to the Sixties!
Served up: thanks to Lemon Custard. Check out more of Lemon Custard’s Observations at her blog!