Review: Hairspray. (touring) Curve Leicester

Hairspray the Musical

Directed by Paul Kerryson

Choreographed by Drew McOnie

Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan

Music by Marc Shaiman

Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman

Leicester Curve – Touring

Monday 4th October – Saturday 9th October

Welcome to the heady world of Baltimore 1962 where the hottest T.V. broadcast is ‘The Corny Collins Show’, an after-school dance programme full of the latest grooves and moves. Teenagers Tracy Turnblad (Katie Brace) and Penny Pingleton (Rebecca Jayne-Davies) are totally obsessed with it. Indeed, Tracy longs to be on the show herself as a hallowed ‘Council Kid’ dancing alongside the latest teen sensation, Link Larkin (Ross Clifton). Can Tracy make it on to the show and capture the heart of this ‘budding Elvis’?

If you have never seen Hairspray then this may seem a typical ‘boy meets girl’ and ‘will true love prevail?’ scenario, but there is much more to it than that. At its heart are themes of racial segregation, prejudice, and body shaming.

‘The Corny Collins Show’ is a segregated programme where black dancers are only allowed to perform once a month and where entertainers of Tracy’s size are notable by their absence. When the opportunity to audition for the show comes up, Tracy jumps at the chance and with the help of her friend Seaweed (Akeem Ellis-Hyman), her dance moves catch the eye of Corny Collins (Richard Meek), and she duly lands a spot as a regular dancer. Can Tracy combat the bigoted views of the show’s producer Velma von Tussle (Rebecca Thornhill) and help promote racial segregation along the way? As Tracy learns, ‘You’ve gotta think big to be big.’

Hairspray is ultimately a joy-filled confection, which builds to a marvellous crescendo that has the audience on its feet. There is such pleasure to be had in seeing the ever-optimistic Tracy and her new friends take on the establishment and triumph. Suffice to say, we encounter memorable characters and performances, including Motormouth Maybelle as played by Brenda Edwards. Her ability to belt out the big numbers, such as ‘Big, Blonde and Beautiful,’ blew this reviewer’s socks off. Edwards brings the necessary warmth and inclusivity that the character needs.

Jayne-Davies, as Penny, also deserves huge applause. Every tiny detail from her pigeon-toed stance to her hilarious attempts at emulating dance moves is priceless. She quickly establishes herself in the hearts of the audience with her deft comic timing, astute physical comedy, and wonderfully expressive delivery.

Alex Bourne (Edna Turnblad) and Norman Pace (Wilbur Turnblad) also impress in their duet ‘You’re Timeless to Me,’ bringing a touch of vaudeville to what could otherwise be pantomime in less accomplished hands. The chemistry between the two is infectious and they have us right where they want us. It is a genuinely touching partnership.

It is also a real pleasure, not only to hear the live band but to see them, during the performance. Decked in white dinner jackets and black bow ties, their expert playing lifts the whole show, especially as we head towards the utterly joyous finale ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat.’

The costumes and hair also add to the visual spectacle that is Hairspray. Feast your eyes on a rainbow-coloured array of preppy polo shirts and chino combinations for the men, aligned with sparkling, sometimes psychedelic-inspired, ‘fit and flare’ dresses for the ladies. Beehives and bouffants abound in this 1960’s fun-fest.

There is no doubt that Hairspray is a crowd-pleaser. My only reservation is that the audience is swept along at such a cracking pace that dialogue can get swamped, which lessens the impact of the more serious themes. Notwithstanding, if you are looking for fun-filled evening’s entertainment, then ‘shimmy and shake’ or ‘twist and jive’ down to a venue near you.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)

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