Corny Collins girls with Alyssa Wilkins as Amber Von Tussle. Pic Grant Leslie
Corny Collins girls with Alyssa Wilkins as Amber Von Tussle. Pic Grant Leslie

Bright, bold and colourful with HUGE ensemble numbers this is a fabulous production of this much fun musical . Readers might be familiar with the 1988 John Waters film or the 2011 live stage version performed at the Lyric (although there are some changes) .

The show is set in Baltimore,  America,1962: just prior to the seismic appearance of The Beatles. Think black and white TV programs like ‘ I Love Lucy ‘, ‘The Beverley Hillbillies ‘, huge beehive hairdos, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Elvis… as all-American as apple pie.( and the flag as front curtain)  But just underneath the brightly coloured neon lights and sort of cartoonish effects  ripple the blatant sexism,  racism and turbulent politics of the era. ( See the protest march Tracy leads and the way she fights for integration) .The set and costumes designs are bright and colourful , semi cartoonish and perhaps with a hint of Jersey Boys ? Jakimowicz’s  choreography was typical of the TV show of the time , ‘Bandstand’ish and the cast performed it with relish.And  the hidden band under muscial director Peter Hayward  was magnificent .

The American Dream expressed in ‘Hairspray’ is that of our heroine schoolgirl Tracy Turnblad, who craves an appearance on teenage heartthrob Corny Collins’ ( Kyle Sapsford) TV show (‘I know every step, I know every song’) – but will she ever get a chance? Who will be Miss Teenage Hairspray (as sponsored by Ultraclutch)?

From the opening ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ it is obvious that this production is blessed  by an exceptionally strong and dynamic Tracy Turnblad our leading lady ( Jessica Rookeward) who is tremendous. She catches the high school would be TV star just right. She is a splendid singer and a groovy dancer to boot .Fabulous!  Her character’s struggle to realise her dream, and also her moral fight for racial equality, are wonderfully portrayed.

Her gum chewing best  friend Penny Pingleton  is excellently played by Mikayla Williams . It’s interesting to note how Penny changes from mousy, homebound, rather ordinary girl to a trendy 1960’s swinger almost unrecognizabkle in a sultry dark gold outfit. Particular mention must be made too of Atunasia Lasalosi as Seaweed , who is an incredible , hot performer of cool , smooth moves .Way to go , man !
Tall , luscious Motormouth Maybelle was delightfully played by Cle Morgan , with a smoky creme caramel voice and delivery ,  who stops the show with her ‘Big Blonde and Beautiful’ and ‘I know Where I’ve Been’ and other soul-like songs .

Haughty Velma von Tussle, Amber’s scheming mother , was wickedly played by Michele Lansdown as a cross between Norma Desmond and Cruella Deville. She has potentially show stopping numbers  in Act 1 ( ‘Miss Baltimore Crabs’  and ‘Velma’s Revenge’) but gets her come uppance at the end. Or does she?

Amber was delightfully played by Alyssa Wilkins just right as the self centred scheming school girl TV star .

There is one section ( ‘Mama I’m a big girl now ‘) where we see the three mothers and daughters – Tracy and Edna, Amber and Velma, and Penny and her mother – all singing at once (a sort of split screen/stage effect) where the daughters are trying to remind their mothers they are grown up and break free of parental restrictions that was excellently done.

Tracy’s father, Wilbur, joke shop owner , was given a fine performance by Wayne Scott Kermond who played him for laughs and pulled out all his terrific bag of showbiz tricks .His ‘Timeless to me’ duet with Edna (Jon English ) is much fun. Gravelly voiced English as Edna , Tracy’s mother, has great stage presence .He plays Edna ‘pantomime dame’ in style and it is obvious it is a man. ( And there are in-jokes about rock singers ) . Sorry  but I found the Mr Pinky’s hair and dress makeovers a little disappointing .

Very handsome young Elvis –like Link , a star of the ‘Corny Collins Show ‘, Tracy’s eventual boyfriend , was tremendously played  by  Christopher Glynn. We see him grow and change and become both more self aware and caring about outside issues.

Look out for Ayanda Dladla as Little Inez – a dynamite young talent !

A cheeky , inspirational production the cast obviously have a whale of a time and the packed audience loved it too … You can’t stop the beat …

HAIRSPRAY, running time 2 hours and 30 minutes, is playing at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta until August 10.