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Hairspray – Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh

Book: Mark O’Donnell &Thomas Meehan

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Wittman &Marc Shaiman

Choreograpy: Jerry Mitchell

Directed by: Jack O’Brien

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys


hairsprayIt’s a cynical and depressing old world we live in: economic crisis, famine and conflict abounds, so what we really need to lift us from the gloom is to be transported, for a few short hours, to a less cynical, more optimistic time: to a world where misfits can be heroes, where, by the sheer force of their personality and goodness in their hearts, kids can overcome prejudice and discrimination and make the world a better place.

Based on John Waters 1988 cult movie and recreating (and re-naming) a real life protest on Buddy Deane’s WJZ-TV Baltimore show, it’s 1962, a time when teens truly took over the world, a time when image meant everything. Larger than your average teen Tracy Turnblad has ambitions that match her size: become a TV star, win the heart of the hero and end racial segregation.

Underneath the candy coloured, glitter and glamour sparkle of David Rockwell’s cartoon-like set and Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman’s unrelentingly upbeat 60s inspired tunes, Hairspray manages to deliver a great big message about the abhorrent racism that was rampant in the era. That it manages to to deliver it in such a gloriously uplifting and utterly appealing way is testament to the quality of book writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan who manage to make the whole glorious roller-coaster ride of a script both witty and intelligent. It’s got big wigs, big tunes and big ideas all delivered with a big heart.

You would be forgiven for thinking that a musical that has been doing the rounds for nearly eight months would be lacking a little sparkle but that couldn’t be further from the truth, if anything it is sharper and tighter than earlier in the run. In particular, Mark Benton as Tracy’s show-stopping momma Edna and Lucy Benjamin as bigoted TV producer Velma Von Tussle have grown into their rôles, both expanding their characterisations and strengthening vocally. Newcomer Freya Sutton is an appealing Tracy and is ably supported by Luke Striffler as heartthrob Link Larkin and Lauren Hood as best buddy Penny Pingleton. Despite the focus being on the kids, it’s the more mature members of the cast who deliver the show-stopping moments: Timeless to Me, the duet between Edna and Wilbur (Paul Rider) still garners the biggest laughs of the night and Sandra Marvin’s heart-felt rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been raises both goosebumps and the roof.

When you scratch beneath the surface this is a musical that is so much more than its sugar-coated, glitzy exterior and if any of the audience take a way even a smidgen of its message about tolerance and standing up for what’s right in this world, then it will have delivered more than most musicals could ever claim to. There’s a reason this show still packs in the crowds night after night: a fabulously fun, feel-good frolic for all the family, not to be missed.

Runs until: 14 September

Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

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