MusicalNorth WestReview

Hairspray – Opera House, Manchester

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman

Book: Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan

Director: Paul Kerryson

Reviewer: Lizz Clark

There’s little more uplifting than a musical about the transformative power of dancing and singing. Hairspray is the tale of Tracy Turnblad, the big little girl growing up in 1960s Baltimore whose youthful exuberance sparks a revolution. Together with a host of talented black dancers, she pushes for racial integration on the whiter-than-white Corny Collins Show. And Tracy’s message of love and acceptance doesn’t just inspire political change – it works wonders on her agoraphobic mother Edna, and sheltered best friend Penny, too. This production from Curve in Leicester is stopping off at Manchester on a tour that began last year and continues until August 2018.

It’s a great concept – a relatively light-hearted civil rights story, set to catchy rhythm-and-blues infused music and packed with 60s glitz. Designer Takis’s set frames the action in grey, brick-lined Baltimore streets (although the accompanying projections are a little uninspiring). Yet peeking out from an upstage platform are the eight-piece band, dressed in white suits to add a little pizzazz. And the bright, colourful lights of the TV studio are joyously campy and glam. So too are the rainbow of costumes, from slinky sequinned gowns for girl-group The Dynamites to petticoat-twirling neon for Corny Collins’s ensemble.

The sprightly cast whirl and leap their way through the show from opening Good Morning Baltimore to the marathon finale You Can’t Stop the Beat (which really is non-stop). Tracy’s talented friend Seaweed, played by Layton Williams, even throws in a few flips and tricks along with the athletic moves of his showcase number, Run and Tell That. Williams’s vocal performance is a little overcooked at times, but his dancing is spectacular and he’s so much fun to watch that it’s no wonder Tracy’s friend Penny (Annalise Liard-Bailey) falls for him instantly. Liard-Bailey’s vocals are stunning and it’s glorious to watch Penny blossom.

Also blossoming is Tracy’s mother Edna, played with grace and style by Matt Rixon, who doesn’t lean too hard on the joke of Edna’s cross-gender casting. Understudy Graham MacDuff, who appears as Tracy’s father Wilbur on press night, plays off Rixon brilliantly. The pair absolutely delight the audience with their romantic number, You’re Timeless to Me. Bringing class and vocal power to proceedings are Brenda Edwards, as DJ Motormouth Maybelle, and Gina Murray, as overbearing matriarch Velma Von Tussle. Edwards stops the show with civil rights anthem I Know Where I’ve Been, while Murray’s finest moments all involve being carried around by her male lackeys, often while sustaining huge notes.

Newcomer Rebecca Mendoza is an endearing Tracy. She plays for laughs most of the time, with a somewhat whiny vocal style and frequent facial gymnastics, but the character’s goodness shines through when it’s needed the most. And it’s still revelatory to see the fat girl (however funny and talented she may be) dance with and kiss teen hunk Link Larkin, played by the suave and chiselled Edward Chitticks.

It’s all so wholesome that even the villains of the piece are mostly redeemed at the end and everybody dances together, exchanging friendly grins. The Manchester audience gives a standing ovation to this energetic and joyful conclusion, which well deserves it. A talented cast, delightful music and dance, and an uplifting message combine to make this production as inspiring as it is entertaining.

Runs until 7th April 2018 | Image: Darren Bell

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Joyous and inspiring

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. 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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