The dream of transforming from a nobody into an instant TV star is the synthetic fantasy of our age and is encapsulated in the narrative of the Broadway musical Hairspray. Set in segregated 1960’s Maryland, it tells the story of quirky plus-sized teenage optimist Tracy Turnblad who dreams of appearing on the segregated Corny Collins dance show. After learning new jive moves from African-American students in detention Tracey wins a spot on the show and sets out to make racially integrated.
For fifteen scenes of this amazing production the quality was absolutely outstanding. The dance moves snapped the music fizzed and the sassy singing left you breathless.
Some of the toughest acting challenges in a school production come when kids have to pretend to be as old as their parents – the voice acting is difficult, there’s less experience to draw on but here they were all believable. Rhieza Lorenzo’s Motormouth Maybelle (a tough character in both senses) was pitch perfect in both characterisation and singing. Ben McGettigan’s Edna Turnblad (Tracey’s mother) was comic genius without straying into pantomime dame, Luke Broadhurst’s Wilbur Turnblad provided a great foil for the double act and Emily Alderson’s Velma was a well-judged mix of ice cold and hot temper. The smooth Corny Collins played by Christian Dumouchel kept proceedings rolling with plenty of Baltimore style.
There’s plenty of wit in the script which came through thanks to great sound production and direction. Rare for a school production I could hear every spoken and sung word. The bubblegum 60’s costumes looked a treat and the lighting design and follow-spot were bang on.
The most “talented kids in town” prize went to the kids. They may have had a slightly easier job of playing characters in their near age range but Sally Hall, Ellie O’Brien, Ben Tomlinson, Uyi Ogieva, Jayanna Shires and Kitty Watson embodied their characters fully. The irony of kids acting as kids whose parents won’t let them perform wasn’t lost on the audience and there were some very strong ensemble performances particularly in the energetic “Run and tell that” and the grounded and serious “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Each chorus member had their own character which gave the whole performance depth.
Over a hundred pupils were involved in this production so credit to St John Fisher staff for involving students in shaping the production. There will be some great memories and learning from all the hard work put in, personal growth combined with professionalism make a good mix for a school production. Proof really that instant stardom is a pipe dream; hard work, luck and talent are what get you places.
I’m sure we’ll be seeing some of these kids in professional theatre, but maybe not the Corny Collins Show.