I have always avoided Hairspray the musical. The edgy, hilarious 1988 Jon Walters film was a particular favourite of mine as a teenager and when I heard it had been remade as a musical with John Travolta taking the role made famous by the indescribable Divine, I was horrified.
The current touring cast of Hairspray has a secret weapon, guaranteed to get me into any theatre for any show – Layton Williams. This young actor gave such an astonishing performance as Angel in Rent, I saw it 5 times across its 2 tours.
I approached this performance with an expectation of a cheesy musical with a single star turn.
The story is of Tracy Turnblad seeking to right the wrongs of segregation and beat the bullies through song and dance in 1962 Baltimore.
It began predictably enough; a fully clothed Tracy jumps out of bed to launch into the opening number complete with nasally “noo Yawk” style accent as she heads off to school. Then the ensemble joins in wearing great costumes and bringing an energy to the stage that starts to get my toe-tapping.
Jon Tsouras puts in a bright performance as Corny Collins the presenter of the music show Tracy is desperate to be a part of. By the time Tracy launches in to one of the shows big numbers “I can hear the bells” I am fully committed!
The cast are all excellent with special mention for Matt Rixon and Norman Pace playing Tracy’s parents, Edna and Wilbur who basically steal the show in the second act. As one half of the 80s comedy duo Hale and Pace, Norman certainly knows a thing or two about being part of a double act and his chemistry with Matt Rixon is fantastic. Their ad-libbing and reaction to the audience has the whole theatre howling with laughter. I presume “you didn’t get that at the royal wedding” was not part of the original script!
Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle is superb and her solo “I know where I’ve been” is dazzling. The disappointment here is that she has such a small amount of stage time.
The musical is indeed very cheesy and much of the dialogue is in need of freshening up but the cast elevated this performance to provide a thoroughly enjoyable evening. There were a lot of school and college parties in the audience and seeing their reaction was a reminder to accept the show for what it is – a great evening of singing, dancing and laughter. It is a brilliant “entry level” musical and I hope that it has sparked an interest in musical theatre for many of those young audience members.
Reviewed by Kirsty Heath