Hairspray at Artscape. Picture: Mandy Freeman
Hairspray at Artscape. Picture: Mandy Freeman

HAIRSPRAY.  Comic American two-act musical. Director/Musical Director/Sound: Neil Leachman. Book: Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan. Music: Marc Shaiman. Lyrics: Scott Willman, Marc Shaiman. Choreography: Laura Bosman and Jared Schaedler. Presented by P2 Productions. Artscape Theatre until 16 February 2019.

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews

It’s jolly, bright, colourful, energetic and musical, and conveys a reminder that while we may look different, it’s how we behave beneath our skin’s three layers, that counts (I Know Where I have Been). That, in a nutshell, sums up Hairspray’s message delivered in a positive, comical way.

Set in 1962 in Baltimore (Good Morning Baltimore), quirky, plump teenager Tracy Turnblad (Kristina Burge), dreams about the day she’ll star on The Corny Collins Show on TV (with suave Elvis-like Hayden Steyn as Corny) (The Nicest Kids in Town).  While Tracy and snazzy best friend Penny (Bryony Bosman) are supported by Tracy’s skinny father Wilbur (comedian Wesley Figaji), Edna (Mark Wilkes in drag) – Tracy’s shy, overly-large washerwoman mother, doubts if Tracy stands a chance (Mama I’m a Big Girl Now).

Tracy’s biggest problem isn’t her weight or flipped bob coiffure, its beating slim, beastly Amber (Ariella Barnett), whose catty scheming mother Velma (Laura Bosman) is the network’s producer.

Outspoken Tracy finds herself in detention beside some class mates. Led by Seaweed (Braeden Buys), they teach her some new dance moves. Moves (The Madison) that take Tracy to stardom on The Corny Collins Show.  Naturally (to Amber’s chagrin) Tracy and handsome leading man Link (Noah de Villiers) fall in love (I Can Hear the Bells).

Hairspray review P2 Pinelands Players. Picture: Mandy Freeman
Pinelands Players’ Hairspray. Picture: Mandy Freeman

Stylish 1960’s arrangements

Motormouth Maybelle (Nawaal Howa), a down-to-earth down-town record shop owner is the glam host on Corny Collins’s Negro Day episodes (Big, Blonde and Beautiful). Maybelle, her son Seaweed and daughter Little Inez (a prettier dress would better show off Thato Sotashe’s talents) join Tracy in their crusade to integrate The Corny Collins Show (You Can’t Stop the Beat).

For some time Pinelands Players productions have been stuck in the doldrums. Whatever those reasons, Neil Leachman’s outstanding Hairspray direction showed P2 (their new name) have weathered that depression and are right back on top. (Just please tone down the backtrack levels to allow sung words to be heard.) Otherwise, heartiest congratulations.

Not only is Hairspray delightful, somehow, this production has attracted such a gang of talented youngsters there are two casts. This number includes 19 year old Jared Schaedler. He, alongside Laura Bosman, choreographed stylish 1960’s high-powered rhythmic, blues arrangements – without undue repetition, frequently ending these in charming tableaux.

In rainbow-coloured costumes everyone put their best voice and foot forward. Well done!

Tops were Wilkes and Figaji’s comic Timeless to Me. Both proved (again) what assets they are to our non-professional theatre world. Wilkes’ superbly timed Edna deserves an Oscar.

Never-stopping energy

Burge too is in an award category. What a bundle of never-stopping energy she is belting through her numerous song and dance routines. Bosman “behind” her outsized glasses kept giggles flowing. Hopefully we can see more of these two in musical theatre.

Buys, a real cool guy, has a natural ability to move like liquid mercury; De Villiers’s diction is tip top. Discard that unbecoming grey jacket and he’ll look like every young girl’s romantic hero.

Marc Shaiman’s dance music and downtown rhythms ideally suited The Three Dynamites (Buhle Vilakazi, Grace Bagula and Amarachi Vazidule). Wearing figure-hugging glittering red gowns they (quite) rivalled the Andrews Sisters act.

Compliments to Michelle Hough for her distinctive practical sets and flats. Look out for “hairdo” flats made from vinyls and the rocket-sized hair spray can (It’s Hairspray) from which Edna burst in a blaze of pyrotechnics.

Hairspray is thought-provoking and told with good humour.

Who: P2 Pinelands Players
What: Hairspray review
Where and when: Artscape, Cape Town until 16 February 2019
Tickets: 021 421 7695
WS