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Hairspray – Bradford Alhambra

Writer: Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.

Director: Paul Kerrison

Choreographer: Drew MConie

Reviewer: Sue Collier

The opening night performance of Hairspray the UK Tour at The Alhambra Theatre Bradford was of extremely high calibre.

The setting is Baltimore in 1962 America. Our heroine is schoolgirl Tracy Turnblad (Rebecca Mendoza) who loves singing, dancing and life itself. She is not your stereotypical musical theatre heroine; she is short, well-built and has a huge backcombed hairdo.

Tracey dreams of joining the cast of singers and dancers on the Corny Collins television show on national TV. She has a massive crush on the show’s teen heartthrob Link Larkin. Though Tracey’s audition is successful, she has strong concerns that the Corny Collins Show only engages white dancers and that any black dancers are only given a separate, monthly television slot. Tracey aims to fight for an integrated television show where everyone’s talent is showcased together. Soon she begins to win Link’s heart. 

The set and costume designer Takis cannot be faulted for his joyful designs. This production is enhanced by a wonderfully luscious and colourful set, while the quality period costumes accurately represent 1962 Baltimore. This is a musical as much about dancing as it is the music, and ripples are felt throughout the auditorium, especially with Marc Shaiman’s toe-tapping score. The audience is watching one show at the Alhambra Theatre, and another at the Corny Collins Television Show.

Even within the first few minutes Act 1, the audience is totally enthralled; cheers and applause can be heard throughout the entire performance.

Whilst often in musical theatre productions, it is common to include a number of skilled principal characters who are generally supported by an ensemble cast, however, this production of Hairspray appears to have a total cast of multitalented stars. The standard of dancing is incredibly high. Layton Williams in the role of Seaweed gives an incredibly controlled performance and his vocals never flounder, even when performing the leaping high splits.

In addition to addressing issues relating to racial segregation, the story addresses other important issues relating to the role of women in sixties America, in particular, the pressure on women to be physically perfect. Link is regularly surrounded by physically perfect women who are emotionally flawed but he eventually comes to see Tracey as the truly beautiful woman she is.

Mat Rixon and Norman Pace play the roles of Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. At times it is easy to forget that the role of Tracey’s Mother, Edna, is played by a man and the warm and loving relationship between Edna and Wilbur during You’re Timeless to Me is truly believable. This duetting partnership is well received by the audience, and the secondary storyline surrounding their love only serves to enhance the depth of the plot.

This production of Hairspray is very much a feel-good show which, on the night of this review, had an entirely appreciative audience to their feet, dancing to the finale. On reflection, it is impossible to suggest how this performance could be improved.

Touring Nationwide | Image: Darren Bell

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. 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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