MusicalNorth WestReview

Hairspray – Blackpool Winter Gardens

Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Whitman & Marc Shaiman

Book: Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan

Director: Paul Kerryson

Get ready to be transported back to 1960s Baltimore to meet the ‘nicest kids in town’ as Hairspray lands at Blackpool Winter Gardens on its latest leg of the UK tour.

It’s a time when there’s just three channels on the television, where there really is a difference between black and white and where the ambitious and larger-than-life Tracy Turnblad wants to make sure segregation is replaced with integration. Many musical theatre fans will know and love the story and the music that shines a light on The Corny Collins Show while exploring themes of romance, race and rivalry. As well as lifting hair, this is a production designed to lift spirits – with big vocals, big movements, and big characterisation.

While all the pieces of this show are definitely there – great casting, strong choreography, and incredibly impressive vocal performances – it does feel like as a production it has been stripped back. In some of the well-known larger numbers such as Welcome to the 60’s, Run and Tell That, and The Nicest Kids in Town it does feel like the ensemble needs to be bigger to fill the stage, give the songs more power and create even more energy among the cast and within the auditorium. How the stage is at the end of the show for the iconic track You Can’t Stop the Beat and the finale is exactly how it needs to be throughout every group number, providing a buzz that makes audience members want to get up on their feet dancing.

As well as a smaller cast, it does feel like the set doesn’t have the wow factor that you would expect for an all singing and all dancing show. Comprising of just two side panels, the stage is brought to life through projections on the back screen – often cheapening the star performances that are happening in front of it and lowering the overall production value.

That said, the main cast do a fantastic job of providing memorable and mesmerising performances, with Katie Brace as Tracy Turnblad not disappointing in the starring role and making a phenomenal professional stage debut. From her over-exaggerated facial expressions, to her sensational singing voice, she carries the show superbly – working well alongside the fabulous Rebecca Jane Davies as the goofy Penny Pingleton and Ross Clifton as her love interest Link Larkin. From the moment she opens the show with Good Morning Baltimore to the moment she secures the title of Miss Teenage Hairspray in the end number, she has you well and truly hooked. Her number Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now with ‘the girls’, Penny and Amber (Jessica Croll) is also a real crown pleaser.

And while Cold Feet star John Thomson as Wilbur Turnblad does struggle with some of the dancing, his relationship with West End leading man Alex Bourne as Edna Turnblad is truly superb – the number (You’re) Timeless To Me proving a real Morecambe and Wise moment and one of the biggest giggles and applauses of the night. But the absolute highlight must go to Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle with her rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been. While the number itself would be better placed in the protest scene, the actual delivery is breathtaking and a real eye opener into just how much the black community have had to fight for their place in society. The costumes too are big, bold and a perfect reflection of the style of the era.

Directed by Paul Kerryson, it’s a show that definitely has the right elements in place to make it an unforgettable night at the theatre – but that just needs a bit more spray and polish to boost it to the next level.

Runs until Sunday 2 January 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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