It does not seem possible to leave a production of the musical Hairspray without a smile on your face and a spring in your step and that joie de vivre was exploited to the full by the young cast of St Joseph’s College students when they performed the show at DanceEast. (January 30 – February 1)
The sell-out show was a huge hit with families as the teenagers recreated the brave new world of 1962, with beehives and hemlines heading upwards and racial segregation breaking down.
The large cast, drawn from Year 7 up to the Sixth Form, in line with the school’s inclusive approach, gave many new performers the opportunity of rising to the challenge of appearing in front of packed houses in a professional theatre. The success of that policy was apparent in the mature and polished performances of the principle characters.
It is difficult to single out the stars, but all credit to 15-year-old Elsa Pratt, who excelled in the central role of Tracy Turnblad, the lovable, chubby teenager with big ambitions. Elsa smiled, danced and sang her heart out throughout. Sixth-former Wilfred Kemsley was fearless and funny in the role of Tracy’s mother, Edna, traditionally played by a man. Wilf, who previously starred as Tevye in the College’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, displayed both versatility and comic timing.
Fellow sixth-former Tabi Scheffler-Gonzalez miraculously transformed herself into a man-eating TV producer with a wonderfully seductive snarl and Mariam Pope (aged just 14) held the audience spellbound as she belted out Motormouth Maybelle’s show stopping numbers, the sassy Big, Blonde and Beautiful and the gospel power ballad, I Know Where I’ve Been.
Amongst the audience on opening night was Emma Dodd, ex-West End Hairspray performer and owner of The Emma Dodd School of Performing Arts, who said she was ‘blown away’ by the show.
‘You actually forget you are watching a school production; brilliant casting led to a professional, funny performance with outstanding acting and vocals, not only from Elsa Pratt, who played an utterly stunning version of Tracy, but from all those with principle roles and the whole cast,’ Emma added.
Other principle parts were taken by Morgan Willetts (Corny Collins), Phoebe Lucking (Penny Pingleton), Joshua Lamb (Link Larkin), Isabelle Atkinson (Amber Von Tussle), Vibhash Gunasene (Seaweed J. Stubbs), Kirsten Horton (Little Inez), Oliver Fraser (Wilbur Turnblad) and Katerina Everard (Prudy Pingleton).
Mrs Clarke, Principal of St Joseph’s, said, ‘The College places great stress on the importance of the Arts. In bringing together this fabulous production, students and staff worked tirelessly for months. It took great perseverance for our actors to learn their script and lyrics, whilst their physical energy was channelled into mastering the dance steps.
‘As well as our fantastic performers in the show, we had students taking the roles of sound engineer, lighting technician, sound effects coordinator and follow spot. Add to that a crew of 15 girls and boys who worked together brilliantly to cope with a huge number of set changes.’