The Cayman Drama Society has started the 2012 season with a bang and its first major production is “Hairspray” – originally a John Waters film in the late 1980s and adapted for Broadway where it went on to win eight Tony awards, including Best Musical.
It is a story revolving around Tracy Turnblad, a cheery plump girl who despite not fitting into what some might consider to be the perfect mold, manages to turn everyone to her way of thinking through dance and her positive spirit. It is set in the 1960s when segregation was still running rife and the idea of an interracial couple was almost unthinkable.
“Hairspray” is a wonderful tale of breaking down barriers, chasing your dreams and challenging perceptions of what being beautiful really means.
Isabella Rooney, as Tracy Turnblad, is excellent in the lead role. She is more than vocally up to the task and enthusiastically embodies the character without overdoing it and turning her into a caricature. Miss Rooney is obviously about as overweight as a 40-pound piece of checked luggage in real life, but her costume has been modified appropriately and with significant acting skills to boot she really carries it off.
The opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” is an uplifting start with colourful sets and costumes and a strong ensemble cast. As the tale unfolds it reveals Tracy’s dreams of fame and being on The Corny Collins Show, a local television dance programme.
We are introduced to Edna Turnblad along the way, Tracy’s mother played by Adam Roberts. A man has always traditionally been cast in this part, most recently John Travolta in the remake of the film. Adam is definitely in touch with his feminine side here, ironing clothes and sporting rollers like a pro. Dominic Wheaton masters Wilbur Turnblad, a goofy, good-natured man who owns the Har-de-Har Hut joke shop and is still madly in love with his wife after all of these years.
The pair have a great duet in the second act – “(You’re) Timeless to Me” – that should be the mantra for all married couples. Their dancing prowess despite an unusual size ratio impressively keeps them from falling into the drums.
Tracy’s best friend is Penny Pingleton, well-portrayed by Alexandra Hayman. Penny is perky, slightly nerdy and incredibly supportive of Tracy and her goal to be on TV. Penny’s mother Prudy (Juliette Austin) would rather her daughter was locked up at home than mingle with the wrong sort.
Daniel Twist, no stranger to the stage, is Corny Collins personified and again, has the singing voice and dancing skills to back it up. Joe Roberts could double as a young Elvis in the part of Link Larkin as he drives the girls wild, including young Tracy who fantasises about the day when they might be together vocalised in the terrific number “I Can Hear the Bells.”
Standing in her way is Amber Von Tussle (Madelynne Bowyer), the spoiled daughter of Velma Von Tussle (Wendy Moore). Amber is determined to win the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition and her mother, a former Miss Baltimore Crabs has no intention of seeing her fail. Madelynne is strong and confident in her role, displaying hilarious and believable incredulity when her character sees Link slipping through her fingers and falling for Tracy. Wendy Moore is a seasoned pro with great chops as Velma, a narcissistic woman who will trample on others to get what she wants.
As Tracy does whatever she can to get on the Corny Collins Show, she befriends a group of black students who show her some new dance moves and open her eyes to the lack of integration on the TV show.
Little Inez (Amirah Gallow) has easily the talent to warrant a winning audition, but is turned away due to the colour of her skin. Seaweed Stubbs (Joel Lawson) definitely has the moves, a talent that does not go unnoticed by young Penny Pingleton much to the horror of her narrow-minded mother. A real revelation is Lesley-Anne Bernard as Motormouth Maybelle, who first announces herself at the end of Act One with the powerhouse “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and follows it up with the devastating “I Know Where I’ve Been” in Act Two. She has a voice and presence that demand attention – hopefully this is not the last time we see her on the local stage.
Tracy meets some resistance on her journey, and even gets locked up in the big house (or “The Big Dollhouse” as the song goes) for a spell. But her infectious spirit takes hold, and by the time we reach the climax of the show with the fabulous “You Can’t Stop the Beat” the characters on stage aren’t the only people in the theatre dancing and singing along.
Neil Rooney, the director of “Hairspray” is behind the scenes for once, but his background and experience in musical theatre is evident in the strength of the performances, particularly when it comes to the vocal and dancing numbers. From the lead character to the ensemble players, clearly all have been put through their paces to ensure they give their best. The live musicians are excellent, effortlessly executing a song-laden score.
There are some suggestive references that would warrant this being considered a PG show, but with such a positive message and so many great musical numbers, hopefully people of all ages will come out to see it. Based on sales and the buzz so far, you should get your tickets soon to avoid disappointment.
Hairspray is at the Prospect Playhouse Theatre through 1 April. Call 949-5054 or email [email protected] for showtimes and tickets.