Musicals don’t come much more feel-good than Hairspray, the Tony and Olivier award-winning smash hit with a big heart and even bigger hair. I’ve long maintained that this infectiously joyful show has one of the best finales in musical theatre, and I stand by that judgment after catching the most recent UK tour at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, and then singing all the way home.
Based on the 1988 film written by John Waters, Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a happy-go-lucky teenager in 1960s Baltimore. Tracy loves to dance, and when she unexpectedly gets the chance to appear on her favourite TV show, alongside a cast led by mean girl Amber Von Tussle and teen heartthrob Link Larkin, she decides to use her new-found fame to challenge racial segregation both on and off screen, and prove to the world that everyone deserves the chance to live their dream.
Leading the fantastic cast is Freya Sutton, who played Tracy in the last UK tour, and returns to the role in Paul Kerryson’s new production with a joyful energy that’s impossible to resist. She’s joined by Claire Sweeney as beauty queen turned TV producer Velma Von Tussle, who really hits her stride in act 2 with a show-stealing meltdown, and understudy Natasha Mould, who steps in with a hilariously uncoordinated performance as Tracy’s best friend Penny.
Matt Rixon and Peter Duncan are great fun as odd couple Edna and Wilbur; their romantic duet is a highlight, not least because it’s the one time the show allows its wholesome innocence to slip (some children in the audience may not quite get what the grown-ups are laughing so hard about). Dex Lee and Ashley Gilmour ooze charm as the romantic heroes Seaweed and Link, and one of the biggest ovations of the night goes to former X Factor star Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, following her powerful and spine-tingling rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been.
Choreography from Drew McOnie, along with the colourful set and costumes, transports us back to the swinging 60s, as one showstopping tune follows another. But even as we’re bopping in our seats, the fun doesn’t distract us from the show’s serious message, which is not just that judging people by race or size is nonsensical, but also a reminder of the importance of standing up for what we believe, no matter what opposition we might face.
The story may stretch the limits of reality from time to time (“oh look! I just happen to have a lighter and hairspray in my pocket…”) but that doesn’t stop it making its point – and anyway, who cares about realism when a show’s this much fun?
Review by Liz Dyer
It’s Baltimore, 1962 where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way on to national TV. Tracy’s audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for equality, bagging local heartthrob Link Larkin along the way!
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
Tue 3 – Sat 7 May 2016