Friday, 17 August 2012

Hairspray, Canberra Philharmonic

It feels like a long time since I've been to see a Philo show. It's not  really (the last one I saw was "42nd Street" in Feb/March 2011), but between them cancelling one show and me missing another, a year and a half away is a long time in theatregoing.

I'm pleased to say that with "Hairspray", they're back in the swing of things. The show itself is a delightful pop piece of 60's nostalgia fluff with a bubbly fun score and just a small spicing of John Waters' signature bad-taste. There is a bit of "well, we're supposed to care about racism because one white girl happens to care about racism" but ... feh, I can't stay angry about a show as loveable as this.

First thing to note is that the orchestra is back in fine form. Philo's orchestras have been a mixed bag lately (I HATED HATED HATED the synthesizer noises from the pit during "West Side Story" and "Boy From Oz" which were blemishes on otherwise skillfully done shows), but this time either I didn't notice them or the orchestra actually has musicians that can play every part. Big thumbs up to Rose Shorney's fine orchestra work.

Second - Jarrad West directs a gobsmackingly good show. The staging rarely stops - there's gorgeous inventiveness throughout (particularly the ever-so-slightly-creepy staging of "I can hear the bells", which makes the entire thing 10 times as funny) and the cast and crew keeps a cracking pace. There is a slight tendency to let a little too much scene-stealing at the edges go through (there's a moment late in act one with Stephen Barwell's Wilbur and a few chorus member that takes scene-stealing to new heights). But if a show sins by entertaining its audience too much, can that really be said to be sinning? My answer is "naaaah"!

This review could be a love-letter to Amy Dunham's Penny and Vanessa De Jaeger's Amber, both of whom stand out in an "everybody's great" cast - both are, in their separate ways, complete hilarity and, in the best possible way, scene stealers.

As a longtime admirer of Max Gambale's work ... I have slight issues with his Edna Turnblad. Great in dialogue, the decision to sing Edna in a falsetto was something I'm not entirely in love with. This could just be me listening to Harvey Fierstein on the original cast (who, yes, can't sing, but the not-singing he does is wonderfully characterful). Still, if it's a choice to go for "more loveable, less funny", I'll live with that. His joy at bursting out in better and more beautiful dresses as the show goes on is a delight to behold. So maybe that means I'm wrong, he's right, and it works.

Anyway, I'm getting to the point where I'm going to comment on all the cast and ramble on for ages which is going to be boring fast. Let's just say "yeah, its awesome, go see it, you'll be glad you did"


  1. Completely agree, Guy - trying to decide whether I write down everything I loved about this, or get the review finished in under a month and fewer words than a Russian novel. Sadly for the readers, I'm leaning toward the latter.

    Now, how do I follow you? I can't find a button for it.

    1. I think (THINK) the subscribe-to button at the bottom is the one that does it. Not entirely sure but that's my best guess! (I subscribed to your blog a month ago, so I'm guessing it's the same way)