Hairspray (2017 Tour) - Musical Theatre Review

Tracy Turnblad (Rebecca Mendoza) is just like any other young teenager in the early 60s – she rats her hair up high, knows all the latest dance moves and loves rhythm and blues. Every afternoon as she watches the gorgeous teen dancers on the Corny Collins Show, she dreams it could be her. Sure she’s a little on the larger side, but boy, can she dance! When fate offers her the opportunity to audition for the show, Tracy grabs it with both hands and kisses it hard on the mouth (well fate and local heartthrob and star of the show, Link Larkin). But this is no conventional story of one girl’s dream come true. Tracy owes her success to the talented, young, black dancers who taught her the smoothest new moves. But Tracy’s new-found friends only get to dance on the show, once a month, and never with the white dancers. So, Tracy joins them on their march for equality, and together they hope to achieve real, lasting change, starting with their integration on television.

Based on the original (non-musical) John Waters film, Hairspray has become an incredibly popular musical, spawning a further film version of the musical and even a live television broadcast. This particular production also proves popular with its audience too. New graduate Mendoza ably pulls off the earnest and exuberant Tracy and is great fun to watch throughout, whilst Matt Rixon and Norman Pace (yes, that Norman Pace – ask your dad) provide lots of humour as her parents Edna and Wilbur. Indeed, they seem to have the most fun during their duet You're Timeless To Me, and have the audience giggling along.

The youthful ensemble do an excellent job with the choreography and seem to have lots of fun with some classic Sixties moves. The bigger numbers are a delight to watch, and not least because of the dazzlingly great costumes! The vibrant colours, shimmery sparkles and wild patterns epitomise this era, and every flash of petticoat and swing of skinny tie truly adds to the effervescence of the show. It’s a shame then that the set doesn’t quite match this, and is somewhat clunky and ineffective. When its mechanisms are utilised carefully within the blocking of the show, it works fairly well, but nobody likes an awkward squeaky set, limping on in a huge silence. It’s a real shame as it slows down the pace of the bubbly piece.

Still, this must not detract from the hard-working cast. Stand out performances from the, as always, exuberant Layton Williams as Seaweed, the extremely talented Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle and the sparky Monifa James as adorable Little Inez. Gina Murray plays the vicious Velma Von Tussle as the quintessential villain, and it is great fun to watch her tangle with Tracy. There’s also a brilliant turn from Freya Rowley in the ensemble, who plays Lou Ann. Rowley is such an engaging performer, I could scarcely take my eyes from her. It was a delight to watch her character interacting with the world of the show in such a detailed way.

It’s also nice to see the numbers that people may not be so familiar with in this production (as they were abandoned from the most recent film adaptation.) Mama I’m a Big Girl Now is infectiously fun, and Cooties, whilst a fairly throwaway moment, sits well with Amber’s personality, here played by the enjoyable Aimee Moore. Most brilliantly, the entire jail scene at the open of Act Two brings many laughs. Indeed, there is a slight campy touch throughout the piece akin to the original John Water’s film, which is refreshing.

Hairspray is almost like an American pantomime – it’s campy, there’s a funny man who dresses up as a woman, and there are some delightfully off-colour jokes. Yet, despite all this, it still has a lot of important things to say. It’s telling that when Little Inez jokes Penny’s mother will ‘kill’ Seaweed for the interracial relationship with her daughter, it didn’t illicit much of a laugh… There’s still a long road to travel when it comes to real equality, and although you may argue this is ‘just’ musical theatre, I’m certain Hairspray will continue to delight and enlighten audiences for years to come.

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