Director: Paul Kerryson
Book: Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music: Marc Shaiman
Lyrics: Scott Whittman and Marc Shaiman
Choreographer: Drew McOnie
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
Since its star-studded Hollywood revival in 2007, Hairspray has proven itself to be a favourite for musical theatre audiences across the West. In this inception, on its latest UK tour, it is clear to see why this glitter-adorned musical is a true hit for audiences of all ages.
If theatre has an obligation to educate as well as entertain, its job can be safely put in the hands of Hairspray. Without preaching, it lays bare the aspirations of its teenage protagonist in neon lights and sparkly dresses and then rips them up in her face. This is not hard-hitting theatre per se, but serves as a soft appeal to the soul to assess the judgements one makes innumerable times in a day.
Hairspray is all heart and soul from the outset; it is unafraid to be bold, bright and racy. This daring streak gives the show a real character and is quite unlike any other touring production in the UK at present.
The real strength, however, lies not in its instantly recognisable score or its unmistakeable wigs; rather, the show excels by the talent on stage, relying on raw ability rather than big-named celebrities to boost ticket sales.
Rebecca Mendoza, making her professional debut as Tracy Turnblad, is nothing short of extraordinary. Performing the iconic role in very much her own style, Mendoza’s presence defies her reported inexperience and her ability in dance routines is unshakeable. Mendoza leaver her audience in no doubt that Tracy Turnblad was written for her to perform.
Annalise Liard-Bailey is similarly captivating in her professional debut as Penny Pingleton; never far from the eye of her audience, she delivers a stellar vocal performance. As a recent graduate, Liard-Bailey unquestionably has a bright future ahead.
Matt Rixon (Edna Turnblad) and Norman Pace (Wilbur Turnblad) bring the show to a stop with their outrageous routines; the pair quickly find the favour of their audience and prove irresistible. Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Maybelle) delivers a powerhouse vocal, ably supported by the ensemble.
Not even minor technical hitches – complete with crew stage invasions at scene changes – can fade the blinding polish from this production; from start to finish, Hairspray screams entertainment and does not so much as stop to take a breath to deliver it. Few productions can bring a press night audience to its feet; of those that do, fewer still truly deserve their ovation. This particular production of Hairspray is by far one of the most deserving.
Hairspray: The Broadway Musical is the medicine that a hurting world needs and deserves every ounce of praise it gets. It brings a glitzy, sickly-sweet show to a new audience in a fun and distinctive way. Packed with talent, familiar songs and a heart full of goodness, Hairspray really should be bottled up and sold.
Runs until 7 October 2017, then touring | Image: Darren Bell