1962, Baltimore. A time where hairdos were of huge importance, but equality was certainly not. Hairspray is a musical which is easy to love due to its big energetic numbers and consistent comedy feel, but it also delivers a powerful message at how things have not always been equal – and perhaps that, despite many positive changes and much progression, we still have a way to go even now. It is quite an achievement to be able to be entertaining and funny one moment and then make and audience sit back and think the next, but this show does that easily, without ever becoming preachy or unnecessarily uncomfortable.
The musical has been running on and off for nearly twenty years since its adaptation from screen (the original film was released in 1988) to stage in 2002. It won multiple Tony awards and an Olivier, as well as spawning a famous cinema remake featuring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken among many other notable names. This latest national tour has a lot to live up to, with many of the previous productions garnering rave reviews, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint this time out either.
Katie Brace makes her professional debut in the show, and what a way to put yourself out there! She is full of energy, delivers the role of Tracy with just the right combination of humour and sincerity, and clearly loves every moment she spends on the stage. From her opening number through to her curtain call she certainly embodies the positive vibes and fun nature of the show, while not missing the important moments of seriousness that drive the underlying message.
Another stand out performer is Rebecca Jayne-Davies, who, as Penny Pingleton, has hilarious show-stealing moments on a regular basis, and seems somehow to have even more energy than the rest of the cast – which is certainly no mean feat! Her perfectly timed one-liners and brilliant delivery of a less “naturally academic” young girl make her performance highly convincing, but always hugely endearing.
The rest of the cast all give their all. The chemistry between the performers is clear to see, particularly with Alex Bourne and Norman Pace, as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, who have some wonderfully touching and funny moments together, and also in the case of Rebecca Thornhill and Jessica Croll, who deliver the “better than everyone else” mother and daughter pairing with style, as Velma and Amber von Tussle. The entire ensemble is brilliant though, and the dancing, singing and general energy are just infectious which is evident from the resounding response from the audience to each musical number.
Sadly the enviable energy and larger than life performances from the cast are not always equalled by some of the other elements of the show. The sound is quite hit and miss, frequently seeming a bit lacklustre and not supporting the singing or the band enough. This results in some lyrics not being completely clear, and some numbers not having the pizzazz or power they deserve. The staging/set also have this feeling at times too, with it coming across a little too simplistic or sparse on occasion. That aside the passion and enjoyment of each and every person on stage is clear to see, and the mediocre elements are overpowered by a team of performers giving 110% throughout.
It’s been a long time since many of us have been able to set foot in a theatre, and it has been a sorely missed experience. If you are biting at the bit to be back in an auditorium and like the idea of scratching that itch by watching something that makes you smile, laugh and want to get up on your feet (as this audience did without hesitation), then Hairspray is the perfect solution.
Review by Sam Dunning
Welcome to the 60s, where everyone’s grooving to a brand-new sound! Enter our vivacious heroine Tracy Turnblad, who has big hair, a big heart, and big dreams to dance her way onto national TV, and into the heart of teen idol Link Larkin. When Tracy becomes a local star, she is able to use her newfound fame to fight for liberation, tolerance, and interracial unity in Baltimore. But can she win equality – and Link’s heart – without denting her ’do?
Hairspray the Musical is at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre from Monday 6th September, 2021 to Saturday 11th September, 2021.