More than hair in Hairspray


  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 18 Sep 2013

Captivatin g: Tracy (Katharine Moraz, second from left) learning how to move with Seaweed and his friends.

There are bigger things to rave about than the hair in Hairspray The Broadway Musical.

EVER had a dream where everything was so colourful and full of life, and you didn’t want to wake up? Beautiful women with tall hairdos and immaculately dressed men walking down streets and filling the air with invigorating songs ... you cannot help but want to join in. You just can’t stop the beat.

That was exactly what the audience experienced when Hairspray The Broadway Musical premiered on Tuesday at the Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

For those who are unfamiliar with the musical, here is a little crash course.

Tracy Turnblad is a highly positive, plump teenager living in 1960s Baltimore in the United States and like any other teenager of that time, is obsessed with the local dance show, The Corny Collins Show.

Upon finding out about an audition to be part of the show, Tracy tries out, only to have her dreams crushed by producer Velma Von Tussle. She doesn’t have the right size, Velma says. Secretly, Velma wants her daughter Amber, who is part of the show, to be the star. But with her determination, Tracy finally lands a spot on the show and uses her newfound fame to fight against racial discrimination.

Forrester dazzling the audience with her powerhouse vocals.

Leading the cast as Tracy is Katharine Moraz and you cannot help but fall in love with her bubbly, perky, larger-than-life personality. Moraz coloured the already colourful stage with her youthful vibrancy, girlish charisma and endearing voice.

One can go so far as to say Moraz did not play Tracy; she is Tracy! She commanded the stage from the very first number, the iconic Good Morning Baltimore.

Though nearly 20 ensemble members were dancing and singing around her, you just couldn’t take your eyes off her. Moraz was simply captivating and a delight to watch.

But of course, that doesn’t mean the ensemble were forgettable. They were far from that. They exuded so much energy and life on stage, the one and a million lights on stage had to compete for attention.

More than that, the chemistry they shared with one another was almost seamless and the way they supported the leads – as all good ensemble should – was an amazing sight. Every time they danced, one will be left with envy and probably an impetus to join a nearby gym.

If Moraz stole the show with her personality, Damian Williams, who plays Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s oversized and loving mother, stole the show with his impeccable comedic timing.

He hit the punchlines with the precision of a bomb-disposal expert. Audiences roared with laughter every time Williams delivered his lines and were at the edge of their seats whenever he opened his mouth ... waiting for the next punch line. No one else but Williams could have elicited a wave of laughter when he said, “If you touch one single hair on Tracy, you will find out a whole new meaning to split ends!”

Now, you may be wondering, did you read that right? A guy is playing the mother’s role? That has been a tradition for the musical throughout the world, for a male actor to play Edna Turnblad, made famous of course by John Travolta, who played Edna in the 2007 film adaptation of the musical.

Williams undergoes nearly an hour of makeup to become Edna! Plus, he has to wear all that padding underneath and be a wife and mother at the same time? No wonder they say it’s difficult being a woman.

What is a musical without the singing?

It’s like going for a buffet dinner without the buffet line. But the voice is a tricky thing, no matter how well trained you are. One note off-key and the purists will crucify you with the vengeance of the Greek gods. So, you can imagine the overwhelming weight of pressure on the casts’ shoulders each time they sing.

But the cast of Hairspray, especially the principal cast, exhibited strong vocals. A special shout-out to Irene Myrtle Forrester who plays Motormouth Maybelle. Her rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been will at once transport you to a time where jazz, blues and gospel music thrived. Her angelic voice will tug at your heartstrings and send shivers up your spine ... in a good way. Forrester was in a league of her own.

Not enough: Tracy spraying some hairspray for that firm and big hair-do.

However, nothing is perfect in this life. Even the greatest musicals in the world have their own share of flaws, no matter how minute they may be. Though Williams was charismatic and charming and extremely funny as Edna, he lacked the groove and magic of John Travolta during the Can’t Stop The Beat number.

Of course, it is an unfair comparison — who can compare with John Travolta? But the point is, perhaps Williams could have enjoyed himself a bit more and allowed his body to move with the music. Vocally, Adam Bernard, who plays Seaweed, was not as strong as the rest. He hit the high notes, but it was not as strong and grounded. His falsettos, however, were amazing.

Fans of the 2007 Hairspray film are in for some surprises. This writer himself was surprised with some of the notable changes in the stage musical. For one, the seduction scene between Velma and Tracy’s father, Wilbur, was not in the musical. Even as the audiences were walking away after the show ended, one person commented to her partner that she was actually waiting for that scene.

Another big scene that was nowhere to be seen was the crowning of Little Inez (Seaweed’s younger sister), not Tracy, as Miss Teenage Hairspray, forever sealing racial integration as part of The Corny Collins Show.

So, a word of caution, do not expect a replica of Hairspray the movie or better still, do not watch the movie before you watch this musical.

All in all, Hairspray The Broadway Musical is a simple yet colourful story about fitting in, being the underdog, going against all odds for friendship and love, and finding courage and bravery in times of desperation. And the fact that the audiences were clapping and singing along, moving their heads to the beat is a testament that when you do watch Hairspray, you really can’t stop the beat.

Hairspray The Broadway Musical is presented by Yvents! with Star Publications (M) Bhd as the media partner. It is staged at the Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre until Sept 22. HSBC Cards is the official credit card. HSBC credit card holders enjoy exclusive discounts on tickets.

Tickets priced at RM190, RM290, RM390, RM490 and RM590 (excluding a RM3 ticketing fee), are available from TicketsPeople. For details, call 03-2287 2727 or visit ticketspeople.com.

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