Book: Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music: Marc Shaiman
Lyrics: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Director: Paul Kerryson
Reviewer: Malcolm Wallace
Adapted from the 1988 film of the same name, Hairspray in its musical form premiered on Broadway in 2002 and has proved phenomenally popular ever since with successful productions worldwide including London’s West End in a production that ran for two and half years then toured the country twice to great acclaim. Although now also available for performance on the amateur circuit this new professional touring production courtesy of the Leicester Curve is evidence of the enduring popularity of this bright, energetic and fluffy musical.
Telling the story of Tracy Turnblad, a larger than life teen with radical ideas, a heart of gold and dance talent in abundance, the musical serves as a light hearted social commentary on segregation and celebrity in Baltimore in the nineteen sixties against the backdrop of a local television dance show hosted by the forward thinking Corny Collins.
A large cast is led by Freya Sutton as Tracy, a rôle she returns to having led the cast on a previous tour. Sutton can certainly dance, act and sing but takes a while to warm into the rôle. It is only really in act 2 that she begins to deliver with the energy that the rôle so desperately requires. Supporting Sutton is Tony Maudsley as Tracy’s mother Edna and Peter Duncan in the underwritten rôle of Wilbur Turnblad. Maudsley and Duncan make a terrific double act and their act two duet, You’re Timeless to Me, is a real highlight combining humour, pathos and just the right amount of poignancy.
The rest of the principal cast includes Claire Sweeney and Lauren Stroud as mother and daughter combo; Velma and Amber Von Tussle, Jon Tsouras as an energetic Corny Collins and Ashley Gilmour as Link Larkin. There are, however, some stand out performances including Monique Young as Tracy’s geeky best friend Penny Pingleton who surprises with a display of brilliant vocals in act two, and X-Factor alumni Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle whose outstanding rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been brings the house down. However, stealing the show is Dex Lee as Seaweed. Lee is a true triple threat with a powerful singing voice, amazing dance moves and acting talent to boot.
Completing the cast is a hard working ensemble who are clearly having a ball on stage and make the absolute most of Drew Mconie’s energetic choreography against the backdrop of a fantastic sounding band under the direction of Ben Atkinson.
From of production point of view there are some lively costumes by Takis and a functional rather than spectacular set designed by Paul Moore which is lit with equal functionality by Philip Gladwell. Direction by Paul Kerryson seems slightly robotic and although it is good to see the large stage at the Palace Theatre used to full effect, there did seem to be a few small technical issues on opening night.
However, what the show lacks in production values it makes up for in quality of performance and it is not often a show tours featuring a cast of such talent who are clearly having the time of their lives on stage. This commitment to performance is at the heart of what makes this production superior to previous tours and why it deserved the rapturous response the opening night audience in Manchester gave.
Runs until 31 October 2015 : Photo: Ellie Kurtz