Based on the 1998 film starring Rikki Lake, Hairspray first hit the Broadway stage as a musical in 2002 before making its way to the West End in 2007. Last year it enjoyed a successful return to London at the Coliseum, starring Michael Ball and this week, a UK tour is playing at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. I went along to check it out!
Welcome to the ’60s. Teenager Tracy Turnblad dreams of becoming a dancer on the hit children’s TV show ‘The Corny Collins Show’ but her mother Edna, who hasn’t left the house for years due to insecurities about her weight, doesn’t want her to get her hopes up as she doesn’t look like the kind of girl who would get cast in a show like that and wants to spare her the torment and humiliation she has suffered in her life because of her appearance. But Tracy, full of hope and optimism, isn’t going to let that stop her. And the first thing she plans to do when she gets on TV is to integrate black and white dancers (who currently are only allowed one day a week where they can perform) and end segregation.
Thirty minutes into the show, when Tracy sang ‘I can hear the bells’, it sounded like the bells exploded and there was a show stop for a few minutes whilst the problem was fixed. Katie Brace (with plays Tracy) showed she is a true company leader and when the show resumed, went from giving 100% to her performance, to 200%, which was then matched by the rest of the cast who went on to deliver an amazingly high energy performance to make up for the technical fault.
The cast can’t be faulted and all give great performances. Katie Brace’s Tracy Turnblad is a bundle of energy and there is a lovely rapport between Alex Bourne and Norman Pace and Edna and Wilbur. Brenda Edwards is her usual powerhouse self, as Motormouth Maybelle, smashing her performance of ‘Big, Blonde and Beautiful’ and Richard Meek is a perfect Corny Collins. Rebecca Thornhill and Rebecca Jayne-Davies steal the show as Velma Von Tussle and Penny Pingleton and Paul Hutton and Ceris Hine give great comedic performances in their many different roles throughout the show.
For a show that is quite far into its tour, there were several technical issues that I felt shouldn’t have happened. The show stop was unavoidable and excellently dealt with but there were moments where microphones weren’t turned on in time or dropped out and a moment when a spotlight was put on the stage and then turned off, looking like it had been done at the wrong time.
All in all, it is hard to be negative about a show like Hairspray. I defy anyone to leave the theatre without a smile on their face and it is exactly the kind of show we need right now, full of hope and optimism. Go check it out this week in Bromley.
Reviewed by West End Wilma