12th February 19
As anyone who reads my reviews will know, Iâm not the archetypal âmusicalsâ fan. However, Hairspray is known as iconic, and for that reason I admit to having had a smidge of curiosity.
This production at the Artscape is by the Pinelands Players, a long-standing community dramatic society. There’s little amateur about it, though, expertly directed by Neil Leachman (who is also the Sound and Lighting Designer) with an impressive cast who seem very at home in the illustrious theatre. As I like to be surprised, I deliberately avoided reading anything about the plot. I was bemused to discover that this musical is not about a hairdresser’s salon. Although it’s a feel-good musical with absolutely everything - most implausibly - going right, it does have some important messages. Hairspray is set in Baltimore in 1962 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Tracy Turnblad (played by Kristina Burge with catchy joie de vivre) is a plump teenager frequently in school detention who longs to join the high school singers and dancers on The Corny Collins television show. Against all odds, she manages to showcase her dance talents and is selected by the star of the show himself (played by Hayden Steyn) to join the attractive, svelte cast which includes dreamboat Link Larkin (played by Noah de Villiers). Delighted by the dancing talent displayed during school detentions by her fellow (black) students, and particularly the suave Seaweed J. Stubbs (wonderfully played by Braeden Buys), she learns their moves and rails against the unfairness of the US’s segregation laws. Tracy vows to stand up for her friends’ right to integrate and dance in The Corny Collins Show, to ensure that Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle (played by Nawaal Howa), is no longer relegated to a once-monthly ‘Negro Day’ show slot. This proves difficult, given the show’s racist, narcissistic and scheming producer, Velma Von Tussle (played by Christine Thonissen) and her daughter-clone, spoilt brat Amber (Ariella Barnett).
However, Tracy’s determination to challenge discrimination leads to her winning the man of her dreams and ushers in a new era for the show. Naturally, the references to race and unfairness resonate in South Africa. If only it was so easy to create social change and banish prejudice… However, despite the unlikelihood of Tracy’s successes, you can’t help tapping your feet. The singing is flawless, and the dancing (with swishing pastel costumes by Laura Bosman, Tina Gough and Caryn Kingwill) lively and impeccably timed - kudos to choreographers Jared Schaedler and Laura Bosman here. The stage sets by Michelle Hough are cute and cleverly functional. Burge is like a dark-wigged Rebel Wilson, and excellent. However, for me the star of the show was Mark Wilkes as Tracy’s endearing mother Edna. The unlikely pairing of Tracy’s parents (her father Wilbur is quirkily and convincingly portrayed by Wesley Figaji) is an unexpectedly perfect match at whom you can’t help but smile. Special mention should also go to the singing trio reminiscent of the Supremes in their red spangly dresses, The Dynamites, portrayed by Buhle Vilakazi, Grace Bagula and Amarachi Vazidule. Somebody give those ladies a recording contract!
With only a few nights of Hairspray left, don’t be the only person in town to miss it.