Dance Writer had an exclusive chat with the choreographer of the Australian tour of Hairspray the Musical, Dominic Shaw.
How has the overall experience been re-choreographing Hairspray The Musical with a stellar Australian cast?
It’s been a joy. It’s always such a privilege to get to re-create Jerry Mitchell’s iconic choreography. This wonderful cast have really embraced and risen to the challenge.
Describe your choreographic process with Hairspray. How do you bring your creative vision to life on the stage?
I start by teaching and defining the physical vocabulary. The choreography for Hairspray is made up of a collection authentic 60’s dance moves (like ‘The Madison’ and ‘The Watusi’). The genius of Jerry’s vision, in my opinion, is that these dance moves become pivotal to the story. As an example: we see our protagonist Tracy Turnblad learn a move called ‘Peyton Place After Midnight’, which she learns from Seaweed during the detention scene. She then uses it to impress Corny Collins, which in turn, gets her on to his TV show. The choreography is woven into the fabric of the narrative and always propels Tracy forward. Then as the climax of the show, all that fabulous ‘vocabulary’ gets put together in the final number You Can’t Stop The Beat. What gives it so much depth and impact, on top of it being a thrilling celebration of dance and music, is the fact that the audience subconsciously knows where all these dance moves have come from.
How has the rehearsal process been for you so far? Have there been any challenges you have had to face?
The challenge we’re still all facing at the moment is Covid. We’ve been relatively lucky with only having a handful of people miss chunks of rehearsal time due to having to self isolate but it’s still anxiety inducing on a daily basis.
What is it about Hairspray that you love so much? What can audiences expect when they see this show?
The show is about how the universal language of dance brings us together and can break down the walls of societal segregation. It’s a show about inclusion, love and family. Audiences can expect to leave the theatre on a high!
Briefly describe your training and performance background that has led to you choreographing for Hairspray. How did you land the role of choreographer?
I studied Musical Theatre at Performers College in the UK where I gained a National Diploma. After graduating I was lucky enough to perform in musicals such as Wicked, Aida, Saturday Night Fever and (of course) Hairspray. It was whilst working as Dance Captain on Hairspray (in London) that Jerry asked me to be his Associate Director/Choreographer on Legally Blonde at The Savoy Theatre, in London back in 2009. Since then, I’ve been working for Jerry on many of his amazing shows as well as creating my own work as a Director/Choreographer. Jerry has been both a mentor and friend and I’m eternally grateful for his belief and trust in me. He’s the best!
You have done a lot of work with Hairspray in previous productions (Original London Cast) and TV credits. How have these experiences shaped your role as choreographer for the Australian tour? How has the production changed or adapted over time for different international audiences and markets?
Great question! When we came back to Hairspray last year (after 15 years since the original London Cast opened) it was an interesting process of re-evaluating what Hairspray means to a 2021 audience. As a team, we had to identify and be sensitive to the cultural messaging and any potentially triggering language. The living authors and original creatives made a number of changes to the script and blocking whilst trying to preserve the fun and subversive essence of John Waters’ original film and also keeping it, historically, firmly set in Baltimore 1962.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I’m so excited to see how Australian audiences respond to the show!
John Frost for Crossroads Live Australia present:
Starring Shane Jacobson, Todd McKenney, Rhonda Burchmore, Rob Mills, Asabi
Goodman, Javon King and introducing Carmel Rodrigues with Donna Lee.
Regent Theatre, Melbourne
From August 2022
Festival Theatre, Adelaide
From December 2022
Lyric Theatre, Sydney
From February 2023
For tickets for the Melbourne season and waitlist sign up for Adelaide and Sydney
seasons visit www.hairspraymusical.com.au