REVIEW: HAIRSPRAY (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

Hairspray arrives in Sunderland as part of its national tour. Set in Baltimore in 1962 where, against the odds, overweight teenager Tracy Turnblad, a girl with a lot of heart and great big hair is set to turn everything on its head. She lands a role dancing on her favourite TV programme The Corny Collins Show and uses her newfound fame to fight for integration of black and white dancers on the show, putting her own future at risk for what she believes in.

This current UK tour is directed by Paul Kerryson. From the opening numbers, the audience is dazzled with colour and energy from the whole cast in their bright costumes, impressive lighting and clever back projections. Full of upbeat, catchy songs, jaw-dropping dance moves it’s a real stage spectacular. Marc Shaiman (Music and Lyrics), Scott Wittman (Lyrics), and Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan (Book) took John Waters’ 1988 film and made it into a musical without losing any of the magic. The show perfectly encapsulates the feel of the period and it packed full of humour.

Tracy (Rebecca Mendoza) stands for what she believes in, not letting her size stop her crusading beliefs. Overturning the rules that black dancers are only allowed on the show on ‘Negro Day’ and landing herself in prison in the process, she is the embodiment of all American optimism and sheer determination to succeed. And she manages to find a love interest in Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks), I Can Hear the Bell’s being a wonderful moment between them.

The chemistry between Matt Rixon and Norman Pace, playing Tracy’s kindly parents allows for a delightful amount of ad-libbing and Rixon gives a larger than life performance powering his way through Welcome to the 60s. A highlight of the second half was Edna (Rixon) and Wilbur’s (Pace) duet You’re Timeless to Me, Pace having the audience laughing with just his body language every time he was on stage.

With two Killer Queens in the cast you’d expect some powerhouse performances. Gina Murray is the perfect ex beauty queen bitch as The Corny Collins Show producer Velma Von Tussle and daughter Amber (Aimee Moore) is the epitome of the pretty on the outside, poisonous on the inside teenage girl you love to hate. Brenda Edwards is Motormouth Maybelle, the strong and sassy owner of a downtown record store, host of Negro Day and mother of Seaweed (Layton Williams) and Little Inez (Monifa James).

Two special shout outs must go to Lindsay Atherton covering the role of Penny Pingleton in Sunderland last night and a huge shout out must go to the hardest working man on the stage – Graham Macduff who covered most of the male roles. He had many quick changes and played them all with aplomb. I loved his Harriman F. Spritzer (President of Ultra Clutch cosmetics, Corny Collins show sponsor), the high‐blood pressure principal, and Mr. Pinky (owner of a plus‐sized dress shop).`

The nicest kids in town and the kids from Negro Day, moved and grooved across the stage to the energetic choreography of wunderkind choreography Drew McOnie. Embracing the feel of the period, this ensemble work incredibly hard and the energy they create could light up a small city. The never seem to stop moving!

By the end of the finale, the whole auditorium were on their feet dancing and the amount of smiles in the foyer as people were leaving displayed how much everyone enjoyed this feel good show.

Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes