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HAIRSPRAY (article first published : 2007-10-30)

Sunday night saw me at the opening of the new Lyric Theatre in Gold Reef City Casino which is hosting Hairspray presented by Gold Reef City and veteran producer Richard Loring in association with SABC 3. It features a top-notch and well-chosen cast headed by Harry Sideropoulos, Mara Louw, Kate Normington and Mike Huff.

Hairspray is based on the New Line Cinema film by John Waters and written by Mark O' Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Marc Shaiman wrote the music, teaming up with Scott Wittman to complete the lyrical component. The international creative team for the Gold Reef City production includes American director Matt Lenz (the original Broadway production was directed by Jack O’Brien), with Jerry Mitchell’s original Broadway choreography re-created by Greg Graham. Set and costume design are by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case.

It’s easy to see why the original Hairspray won eight Tony Awards in 2003. The show has been described as an “inspiring and fun feel-good” musical and, yes, it is all of these but lest this description lead you to believe that this is a squeaky clean, fresh-as-a-daisy piece of froth and nonsense, it’s much more. It’s a story of grit, guts and going for broke!

Tracy Turnblad decides to audition for a television show because she has a crush on one of the presenters, Link Larken. Only problem is, Tracy’s not exactly slim. The sarcastic slurs about her weight come thick and fast at the audition but she forges ahead and gets on the show despite strong opposition from Velma von Tussle whose sights are set on promoting her daughter, Amber.

Now comes problem #2. Tracy is a liberal thinking young lady and befriends a group of coloured dancers and singers and wants to get them on the show – bad news for the tv station and just about everyone else. After all, we are talking Baltimore in 1962 and the black rights movement is just around the corner. In the end, fairness prevails and the only ones miserable - albeit temporarily - are Velma and Amber.

Kate Normington’s dramatic power stands her in good stead as an elegant bitchy Velma Von Tussle and in the final scene she wears a beehive hairdo that must need a crane to lift it into place! Elizca Coetzer immediately wins the audience’s approval with her spunky portrayal of Tracy Turnblad, whose parents are the forthright larger-than-life Edna and the more easy-going Wilbur. Mike Huff is very endearing as the lovable Wilbur but it is Harry Sideropoulos who steals the show as Edna (a role traditionally played by a man). Their duet, (You’re) Timeless to Me, is an absolute treat and the show is worth seeing for this number alone.

Mara Louw brings the house down with I Know Where I’ve Been and other delightful numbers are Good Morning Baltimore, I’m a Big Girl Now, I Can Hear the Bells, Big, Blonde and Beautiful and You Can’t Stop the Beat. I found some of the vocals a little strident but if you enjoyed productions like Little Shop of Horrors, Grease and Saturday Night Fever, this one’s for you.

Other stand-out performances were Dane Paarman as Link Larken, Jo Galloway as the spoilt Amber, Earl Gregory as Seaweed and Vicky Friedman who was a delicious Penny Pinkleton.

Direction is crisp and clean as are the sets in their soft pastel or vibrant colours. There are no massive structures. Representational pieces of sets are trucked on, such as the lounge of Tracey’s mother, complete with television and ironing board.

Sitting in the theatre before curtain up, I felt as if I had been transported into the northern hemisphere and was seated in one of London’s West End legendary Lyric theatres during its heyday. The Gold Reef City theatre is simply splendid: a massive chandelier sparkles above the plush red seats, six private boxes add to the sophistication and the deep red velvet curtains of the stage are surrounded by fluted columns, ornate gold scrolls and ornamentation. Glamour and elegance abound – this is one real classy theatre!

We sat in EE33 in the gallery and had a beautiful view of the stage but if you have long legs you’ll find the legroom is a big tight. Rather book lower down or in the stalls. In his opening address, Richard Loring mentioned that, while the theatre is advertised as having 1100 seats, there are actually 1101 with the extra one (not on the audience plan) being L48. This seat will always remain empty and pays tribute to the legendary Anthony Farmer, creator of numerous extravaganzas and a major player in the team that created The Globe theatre at Gold Reef City.

The opening was one of the most efficiently-organised events I have ever attended. From the moment we reached the first Hairspray poster en route, it was hospitality-plus all the way. Every official from parking attendants upwards were motivated, smiling and helpful. Ticket check-in took no more than 30 seconds. Sensible snacks were offered during the pre-show party; packs of fudge were offered at interval while those with a sweet tooth could indulge in vast wedges of sinful-looking cakes, and the piece de resistance for me was being offered bottled water after the show, a perfect choice to solve any dehydration before the major after-show party. So congratulations to all involved - the hard work and meticulous planning paid off!

Tickets from R150 (R135 and upwards for Sunday shows and matinees). Book now on 011 248 5168 or email box.office@grcc.co.za or at Computicket – Caroline Smart

Watch this space for information regarding Thompson Tours specials from Durban.




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