* * * * *
by Margaret Chrystall
MAYBE Hairspray – and its heroine Tracy Turnblad – wouldn’t have seemed so special to me on a first-ever seeing if the Eden Court return hadn’t coincided with the 100th anniversary of women winning the vote and all the thoughts that inspires.
The timing emphasised the important messages about changing the world by being yourself that powers the fun-loving, free-wheeling musical from US film director John Waters’ original story.
In Hairspray achieving social and political change looks almost as easy as mastering the musical’s best dance moves the Peyton Place After Midnight or the Stricken Chicken.But with Tracy’s lineage, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised.
As her mom Edna declares at one point in the show when the rebels have ended up in jail and you think she’s gong to be mad at Tracy: “If my mother knew …she’d be so proud! Remember your grandmother was a suffragette!”
But with racism, sexism, fatism, fear of failure – there’s a big tick list to check off on the way to making a perfect world and a fitting American dream for the heroine, her friends and family in the 1962 segregated Baltimore of the Corny Collins TV show.
Great musical numbers, energy-packed dance routines and imaginative staging made it easy to love the journey in this production.It cast Rebecca Mendoza – whose performance perfectly blends cute and feisty – as the music and dance-obsessed Tracy.
With her hair “ratted up” to the max, backcombed like Jacqueline Kennedy, no less, Tracy’s chance to audition to dance on her local TV station’s teen show – “it’s the dream of a lifetime”.
But it’s only because she hooks up with the stunning dance talent of black fellow pupil Seaweed (a standout dance and acting turn from Layton Williams) in detention that Tracy has the moves at her audition to impress Corny Collins the show host.
And with Seaweed’s borrowed signature step Peyton Place After Midnight – named after the raunchy-for-the-times US TV soap – Tracy quickly becomes the show’s newest star.
To her getting the chance to dance together with the black kids on TV is exciting and no big deal. But can a driven, cuddly but gifted, ordinary girl really fulfil her career and love dreams AND take on racism and snobbishness?
As Tracy’s dad Wilbur tells her “Think big to be big. You follow your dreams, baby!”Another winning performance comes from Matt Rixon as Tracy’s mum Edna who has to face agoraphobia and her large size – or “indeterminate girth” that she would rather not be – to support her daughter.
Edna and Wilbur’s love duet (You’re) Timeless To Me with Norman Pace – complete with corpsing and naughty innuendos got one of the biggest cheers of the night.
The duo we loved to hate were given gutsy portrayals by Gina Murray as racist, snobbish, hard-as-nails TV producer Velma Von Tussle with Gemma Lawson stepping in as ambitious, talent-free daughter Amber.And Tracy’s flawed love interest Link Larkin has to impress and be flawed – and Edward Chitticks more than ticked those boxes.
Brenda Edwards also excelled as Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed’s mom and inspirational black DJ and record-shop owner – her ravishing soul voice never better than on I Know Where I’ve Been, earning a massive cheer from the audience.
But the young receptive Eden Court crowd played their part powering the show from our side of the lights with their energy in a love-in which climaxed with a standing ovation at the end of this knowing, sassy musical honoured with a performance that packed in funny, touching and inspiring.