BuSTCo’s production of Hairspray is colourful, visually appealing and the full of genuine 1960’s teenage enthusiasm, but on opening night it appeared to need a few more weeks of rehearsal and fine-tuning to fully realise its potential.
Visually, expectations can be the hardest factor to deal with when deciding on how to stage a very well-known show, such as Hairspray, and so the inclusion of the vertical bed in the opening scene, the chalkboard in detention, the placards used during the protest and the minimalistic jail bars were predictable, but also adequate and suitable for this unsurprising but generally entertaining production.
The major highlight of the show, however, was the costumes. Hannah Bird has dressed the cast in well-fitted and suitable attire while ensuring that the Corny Council, Dynamites and Von Tussels were vibrant, fun and exciting, while the Motormouth Council, Little Inez, Motormouth Maybelle and Seaweed appear as the more muted, ‘poor-cousins’ of the ‘Nicest kids in town’.
Emmie Câpek and Tori Simpson have devised and taught choreography which enhances the performances on stage, and formed my next favourite part of this production. While not overly complicated or technically difficult, the dancing was well-suited to the era, sharply executed most of the time, and suited the skill-level of the cast.
The direction was generally well suited to the skill and experience of the cast, but more attention needed to be paid to transitions, as there seemed to be a definite drop in energy as cast members entered and departed the stage within scenes. The cast seemed to be distracted by trying to remember where to go and when, and unfortunately, this lead to a lack of energy, overall. This slightly insufficient amount of rehearsal translated into a number of performers presenting characters, who lacked genuine connection or chemistry, which will probably improve as the season progresses.
The lighting was unremarkable in a positive sense, which meant that everyone was lit when they needed to be, the lighting states suited and complemented the blocking without pulling focus and the dome operators were clearly ‘on their game’. It was stylistically appropriate for the show and enhanced the primary colour scheme of the costumes and set.
The main set pieces were simple three-sided, wheel-mounted structures which were spun and aligned to establish various spaces, including the TV studio, a Baltimore street and Motormouth’s record store. The simplistic design was suitable for the space and provided sufficient room for the cast to move, but a word to the backstage crew… wearing black to minimize your visibility when changing sets is rendered ineffective if you choose to wear bright, white, brand-new-looking sneakers. This was very highly noticeable, distracting and detracted from the otherwise seamless set changes.
The biggest problem with this production was the sound. For most of the time, the audience strained to hear the performers who, at times, sounded like they were not wearing microphones at all. The sound operators appeared to try to address this by adjusting mic levels and bringing down the volume of the band through the house speakers, but this just lead to pitchy singing, timing and pace issues and a frustrated audience. It was almost impossible to evaluate the quality of the band because, for the majority of the time, they could barely be heard, and when the performer’s microphones were turned up, towards the end of the second act, the audience were jolted by popping sounds and sporadic bursts of volume which certainly ‘re-ignited our attention’.
Performance highlights included a subtle and endearing Enda Turnblad (Mathew Arter), a thoroughly unlikeable and suitably abrasive Velma Von Tussle (Cathrine Zavrou) and although not instantly recognizable as the stereotypical heart-throb, Link Larkin (Dean Di Cristo) captured the heart of the audience with his seemingly genuine affection for Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Edwards). Edwards presented one of the better adaptations of Tracy that I have seen by going beyond the traditionally caricatured ‘silly, chubby-girl’ and exposing Tracy’s vulnerability and sweet nature.
BuSTCo’s Hairspray is a simple, fun show with a genuinely excitable cast and would be great viewing for a young audience of first-time theatre goers. It runs until Saturday 31st October at the Aquinas College’s Mahon Theatre and the tickets are relatively inexpensive, offering generous student and childrens’ concession prices, family ticket packs and $27 adult tickets. Just remember that you can only pay with cash at the door and the show starts at 7:30pm.