Tracey Turnblad is not your average 1960’s American teen. She is a big girl, with a big heart and even bigger hair. ★★★★★
Refusing to allow her larger figure to prevent her from dancing on her favourite music programme, The Corny Collins Show, Tracey wins the hearts of the local daytime TV audience. But when she is told that the black dancers can only appear on the show’s monthly “Negro Day”, she decides to stand up for what’s right.
Standing in Tracey’s way is Velma Von Tussle; ex-beauty queen, TV station manager and pushy mother to her daughter, Amber – the winner of the Miss Teenage Hairspray pageant and girlfriend of Tracey’s major crush, Link Larkin. With the help of her larger than life mother, her best friend Penny and ‘Motormouth’ Maybelle, Tracey sets out to unite black and white.
Based (somewhat loosely) on the John Waters film of the same name, Hairspray burst onto Broadway in 2002. It is a show which centres around a somewhat dysfunctional family and has an underlying message of tolerance, acceptance and challenging boundaries, but whilst the message of the ability to embrace change comes across, it does so in a show which is camp, uplifting and, most importantly, incredibly entertaining. This is a show which is all about kitsch, camp fun rather than social commentary.
Featuring the songs “Good Morning Baltimore”, “Welcome to the 60’s” and “Run and Tell That”; the soundtrack contains one toe tapping, show stopping song after another accompanied by some spectacularly athletic dance routines featuring the disciplined dance ensemble. The redesigned set gives the whole proceedings a lick of paint, refreshing the show and making it feel simultaneously updated and retro, and the costumes, wigs and patterned materials really gave a feel of the period.
Standing out from the cast was Brenda Edwards who belted out Motormouth Maybelle’s tunes like no-one else, nowhere more evident than the goose-bump inducing rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been”. Tony Maudsley (TV’s Benidorm) played Edna Turnblad with a straight bat and just a hint of Divine and Freya Sutton charmed as Tracey. In terms of the cast as a whole, their performances were perfectly functional but not quite as polished in places as they could have been, but when a show is this much fun, you can overlook the odd bum note.
Hairspray is a colourful, upbeat and utterly joyous explosion of infectious fun which you simply can’t help getting swept up in. Bouncing along with an abundance of consistently great songs, set pieces which cause you to develop a beaming grin and all the enthusiasm that the ensemble cast can muster, Hairspray proves that the all singing, all dancing musical is alive and kicking. As the closing number gloriously declares, “You Can’t Stop the Beat”, and Hairspray is one beat which you really won’t want to stop.
by Paul Szabo | @IAmScubamonkey
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.