When it comes to feelgood musicals, Hairspray has to rate right up there, especially when it comes to warming the crowds on the coldest of February nights. The story of the larger than life Tracy Turnblad, and her battles against racism and sizism in 1960s Baltimore is a frothy, colourful, musical delight. Just what was needed as the snow once again began to fall, as Winter continues to out stay its welcome.
1960s Baltimore is a bastion of segregation, and this is highlighted perfectly in the teen music programme ‘The Corny Collins Show’, an array of squeaky clean white teenagers dancing to the latest sounds. Once a month they have ‘negro day’, a nod to the black community, but that is as far as racial equality goes, and the teenagers would certainly never dance together. But step forward Tracy Turnblad, a tubby teenager with sass and determination in abundance. Not only is she determined to dance on the Corny Collins show despite not fitting the perfect image, but she also wants to take her black friends, including Seaweed and Little Inez, with her. Tracy is brave and idealistic, but she has her work cut out facing Velma Von Tussle, the producer of the Corny Collins show, as well as the Baltimore police. But with the help of her friends, her love interest and teen dream Link Larkin, and her indomitable parents Edna and Wilbur, Tracy might just do it.
Hairspray is a joy from start to finish, with those stunning, life affirming songs that quite literally raise the roof. From the opening strains of ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ complete with its tribute to the local flasher and town weirdos, you know that this is a musical with its tongue firmly in cheek. The songs parody 1960s teen anthems and chart hits, but there is also an incredibly beautiful and powerful anthem in ‘I know where I’ve been’ once again performed to exquisitely by the sublime Brenda Edwards, and once more bringing a real lump to my throat.
The cast is perfect. Stand in Tracy Rosie O Hare is wonderful, a sassy star performer who performs all her numbers with verve and humour. Edward Chitticks is great foil as the teen dream Link Larkin, sending up the heart-throb label in great style. Annalise LIard Bailey is hilarious as Tracy’s best friend Penny, deliciously dumb and pliable, whilst the incredible Layton Williams as Seaweed steals every scene he is in with a charismatic, athletic performance.
The adult roles are also wonderfully played. The Edna Turnblad character is famously played by a man since the days of Divine, and Matt Rixon is so warm in the role, you laugh at his humour, rather than at the character, and totally fall in love with his Edna. Wilbur, played by Graham MacDuff, standing in for Norman Pace, has great chemistry with Rixon, and their duet, ‘You’re timeless to me’ is a gorgeously poignant, yet funny, ode to love. Gina Murray has a ball as the wonderfully bitchy Velma Von Tussle, playing the role as a sort of wicked queen, whilst the voice of Brenda Edwards once again steals both hearts and minds as she makes Motormouth Maybelle her own. Brenda Edwards is Motormouth, it is a real tour de force performance.
Hairspray is one of the greatest modern musicals, fun, bright and beautiful, but with a real message behind it. You leave the theatre singing and dancing and knowing you have been truly entertained.
‘You can’t stop the beat’ – why even try!
HAIRSPRAY – Wolverhampton Grand
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