Hairspray musical star gives kids someone to look up to

Hairspray the musical shocked the world when it showcased a big-bodied teenage girl confident and comfortable in her own skin.

Two decades later, its protagonist remains an icon of the body-positivity movement.

Hairspray’s Sydney return comes 13 years after the show’s Australian debut and 20 years after its Broadway production won eight Tonys, including the award for best musical.

Based on the 1988 John Waters film, the musical follows Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore teenager growing up in the 1960s whose dream is to dance on TV.

She lands a spot on The Corny Collins Show and becomes an overnight superstar before using her fame to lead a civil rights march.

The cast features a host of American actors in addition to Australian darlings such as Todd McKenney, Rhonda Burchmore, and Shane Jacobson in drag.

Pint-sized star Carmel Rodrigues has a deep connection to the show.

The 23-year-old played Tracy Turnblad in a high school production of Hairspray almost half a decade ago.

To her, playing Tracy feels like coming home.

“Coming back and doing this role now, it feels right. I feel at home,” Ms Rodrigues told AAP.

“Before this, I had nothing except the students I was teaching. Now I’ve got this it’s just opened so many doors.”

Tracy is a challenging role characterised by overwhelming positivity and explosive moves.

The show’s themes of acceptance and identity revolve around race and body image. Ms Rodrigues said these two themes made Tracy a great role model to young girls.

“Little girls have someone to look up to who isn’t just tall and skinny,” she said.

“They can look at Tracy and say, ‘That’s me. Tracy’s a big person and she can dance. I can dance too.’”

Discussions about body image have come to the fore after body inclusivity activist Taryn Brumfitt was named Australian of the Year.

Ms Rodrigues said the character was about so much more than her size.

“I don’t just see her as this larger person. Tracy’s larger than life, she’s got this massive spirit,” Ms Rodrigues said.

“Even though Baltimore is her kingdom, she doesn’t think of herself as the princess. She just sees everything in the best way possible.”

After a run in Melbourne and Adelaide, Hairspray will play at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre from February 5 to April 2.


Kat Wong
(Australian Associated Press)


Like This