MusicalNorth WestReview

Hairspray – Liverpool Empire

Reviewer: John McRoberts

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Whitman & Marc Shaiman

Book: Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan

Director: Paul Kerryson

It’s undeniably camp, incredibly uplifting and has songs that will make you dance all the way home, Hairspray is without a doubt the perfect, feel-good musical. Based on the hit 80s movie, the plot follows teenage dreamer Tracy Turnblad as she attempts to become a dancer on the Corny Collins Show. Its underlying message of hope, acceptance and racial discrimination rings just as strong now as in its 60s setting.

This revival of Leicester’s Curve theatre production directed by former Artistic Director Paul Kerryson, is slick and pacey. Its 2.5 hour run time speeds by, and the cast imbibe the whole show with charisma and energy especially during ensemble numbers where Drew McOnie’s vibrant choreography really gets a chance to shine. It’s a big, bright show, but that sadly doesn’t translate across with Taki’s almost non-existent set design which fundamentally is just a series of projections on the cyclorama, framed either side by two flats made to look like Baltimore Tenement blocks.  One can understand the need to strip away some of the more superfluous elements of set design when touring, but Taki’s set leaves the show with a massive gaping hole that screams to be filled.  A shame as both the material and indeed this cast deserves much better than what they are being given here.

Newcomer Katie Brice is stunning as Tracy, despite this being her professional debut – she gives the role so much fire, it’s contagious. Her vocals are delivered pitch perfectly and her characterisation is brilliantly larger than life, much more than understudy Paul Hutton’s portrayal of Edna Turnblad, which feels a little under-coloured in comparison, that said, Hutton manages to have strong chemistry with Norman Pace (who gives a charming rendition of Wilbur) especially during You’re Timeless To Me.  Rebecca Thornhill and Jessica Croll are delightfully devilish as the mother and daughter duo Velma and Amber Von Tussle. Strong support comes from Rebecca Jayne-Davies’ excitable Penny Pingleton, Akeem Ellis-Hyman’s silky-smooth Seaweed, Richard Meek’s charismatic Corny Collins and Ross Clifton’s Link Larkin.

It’s Brenda Edwards who reprises her role as Motormouth Maybelle that steals the show, so much that at press night in Liverpool her exquisite rendition of I Know Where I Have Been earned the star a much-deserved solo standing ovation. The power of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman’s material is so evident in every bar of each song, that you can’t deny its musical mastery.

Hairspray certainly makes a welcome return back to Liverpool and will leave its audiences on a high with plenty to talk about on their journey home.

Runs until 4 September 2021 then continues its UK Tour.

The Reviews Hub Score

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The Reviews Hub

The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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