Then I went to Melbourne this weekend past and saw Hairspray. Happily, the Australian version is not a carbon copy of the show I saw in London in 2008. Like Our Town, the show has a minimal set, but unlike that play, the set is replaced by a garishly coloured animation that changes to mimic each setting. It was ugly, distracting, and wholly unnecessary. In fact, it looked tacky and cheap, and it certainly was not technically impressive. Anyone can make an animated background -- they do it on TV all the time. It's certainly not good theatre.
When that hideous background was combined with some tedious ham acting from some of the younger cast, it was one of the most irritating shows I've ever seen. Happily, I didn't hate the whole thing. Jaz Flowers was, as my companion remarked, the very definition of what reviewers call 'winning' as Tracy, and Trevor Ashley was delightful as Edna. Cle Morgan was the unexpected heart of the show with a nuanced portrayal of Motormouth Maybelle. Overall, I didn't find the pacing of the show as relentless as I did in London. The singing and dancing were fantastic.
Yet again, the matinee audience was full of young children. This is a plea to parents everywhere: please think carefully before you take your child to the theatre. Musicals are not automatically family fare. Catchy songs and colourful costumes (and horrible background animation) do not mean this is a show for children. I mean, there's a joke about prison rape, as well as a visual blowjob gag. Mary Poppins is playing just down the street, and I'm pretty sure it has neither of those things. If you must take your kids, teach them how to behave -- i.e. not to talk during the show.
Standing ovation report: Are you kidding? Shows with fake sets don't get standing ovations, but apparently most of the audience did not share my opinion on this matter.