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Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘Hairspray’

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Hairspray, a West End and Broadway musical, will run at the Esplanade from September 26 to October 1 2013. In Singapore, the musical is brought to you by Yvents!

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With music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, and a book by Mark O’Dannell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray tells the tale of Tracy Turnblad (Katharine Moraz), a pleasantly plump teenager who has a strong desire to be famous and noticed for her dancing skills, despite being told she doesn’t fit the shape of successful people. Undeterred, the young Tracy not only attempts to get a popular television dance show to showcase her, but also tries to integrate Black people into the show.

I have to admit I absolutely loved the 2009 movie version of Hairspray, and this musical version, which is based on the John Waters’s 1988 movie of the same title, absolutely blew me away. This musical Hairspray has the same heart, emotions, wonderfully melodic tunes, great lyrics and toe-tapping dancing that both movie versions had.

The musical is slightly different from the movies. For one thing, it has a couple of songs and story plots not found in the the films, and vice versa. That doesn’t take away from the magic of this musical – with catchy melodies and relevant lyrics, Hairspray‘s songs will entertain you and captivate your heart.

After all, that’s how and why musicals made a comeback in the 1930s – to bring joy in a period of Depression. Hairspray certainly ticks all the boxes for bringing happiness and joy to the audience, with quirky characters, superb singing, perfect acting, plot twists, and even a lesson about believing in yourself.

The main character, Tracy Turnblad, doesn’t feature as prominently in the musical as she does in the movies, but Moraz is enticing and spot-on in the role of the the adorable, slightly naive, but always optimistic Tracy.

Moraz is ably supported by actors who match her in stage presence despite having secondary roles. Bronte Barbe stands out as Tracy’s best friend Penny. She is convincing as the square nerd and every time she is on stage, she is committed to that portrayal, which makes her enjoyable to watch throughout. Graham Hoadley also stands out playing many characters, including the lustful Mr. Pinkie, the irritable High School Principal, and the congested Policeman. He adds such a variety of spice and nuance to each of his characters, that each character stands distinctly on stage, a feat only highly skilled thespians are capable of.

Another outstanding performance comes from Irene Myrtle Forrester who plays Motormouth Maybelle. Forrester sings one of my favourite songs from Hairspray, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” with such pain and pathos resonating so splendidly in her delivery and performance, that I couldn’t help but tear up at the plight of her character. As Forrester finished, many in the audience cheered her loudly.

Also, I didn’t realise the cast was British until after the show when I approached a group of four young men from the cast. Till then, I thought the cast was American, as everyone held up their faux Yankee accents very well on stage.

To conclude: Hairspray isn’t a musical with flashy sets, and the dialogue could be funnier, but it lifts your spirits and keeps you highly entertained for two hours. With pitch-perfect singing, soulful performances, fun dance movements, and memorable songs, this is a must-watch show, and one that will have you leaving the theatre humming the addictive songs.

And remember when I said I loved the movie versions? Well, Hairspray the musical is now in my top three most favourite musicals as well (along with Chicago and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat), because as Tracy and her ensemble warn in their final number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat”!

About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, curent freelance writer and filmmaker.