It has been over 12 months now since I, and many others, have had the opportunity to attend a theatre to view a live performance; as a Musical Theatre tragic, the experience has been long overdue. On Thursday night I finally got back out there and had the opportunity to be a part of the audience for the opening night of Western Arts Theatre junior production of Hairspray.

Set in the early 1960s and following the transformative journey of the plucky, plus-sized teen, Tracy Turnblad, the show tackles issues of body image, bullying, racism and overcoming adversity through a string of catchy tunes that are sure to be stuck in your head long after to have exited the theatre. It was inspiring to see so many young people of varying age, experience and cultural backgrounds offered the opportunity to grace the stage in such an upbeat, fun and poignant musical.

Kudos must firstly go to the entire production team for putting together a well-cast, colourful and energetic production with smooth scene transitions, considered blocking and effective yet achievable choreography. Particular accolades must go to Minna Ikonen and Bec Muratore for their Musical Direction; the ensemble vocals were full and rich in songs such as ‘Welcome to the 60’s,’ yet demonstrated variation in more dynamic and contrasting numbers. The lighting design by Jason Bovaird was second to none and added the bold and brilliant colour punch to which ‘Hairspray’ is synonymous.

While the entire cast brought pizazz and flare to their individual roles, there were a few stand outs for me personally. Kristine Murray-Xenidis portrayed the awkward yet adventurous best friend role of Penny Pingleton to a tea. With spot-on comic timing in delivering a string of naive one-liners, focus and commitment to the character at all times, and a strong vocal performance to boot, Kristine presented an outstanding performance. This coupled with Chloe McKeon’s comic and nuanced performance as, Prudy Pingleton, Penny’s over-bearing, conservative mother, offered plenty of laughs for the audience.

Another stellar pairing was Gus Fitzpatrick and Max Reymers as Wilbur and Edna Turnblad respectively, as Tracy’s loving and supportive parents. Gus’ genuinely goofy, kind-hearted and doting portrayal of Wilbur complemented the sweet-natured, bundle of nerves of Edna. Max took on the challenging role of Edna with aplomb, performing the role with full commitment and delivering commendable vocals. The duo were a delight to watch and demonstrated an authentic connection.

Hairspray Jr. is on from April 8th to 17th; perfect for those looking for some school holiday entertainment. If you are looking for some family-friendly fun that will get you back into some comfy theatre seats, I strongly encourage you to get to Western Arts Theatre Hairspray Jr. and support young talent and the Performing Arts.

Bianca Mannello