Book: Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music: Marc Shaiman
Director: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Reviewer: Lu Greer
Based on John Waters 1988 cult film Hairspray takes its audience back to 1962, a time when having a big personality and big hair to match could put you at the top of the social ladder. The story centers on Tracy Turnblad (Freya Sutton) who has spent her teen years dreaming of becoming a dancer on the Corny Collin’s dance show. Once there though, Tracy must try to overthrow the programme’s top dancer and meanest member Amber Von Tussle (Gemma Sutton) to become the best performer and to claim the heart of Amber’s boyfriend Link Larkin (Luke Striffler).
While on the surface this sounds like every other story based on a group of teens to hit the stage, the big, bold and beautiful sets (David Rockwell) and the energetic and colourful choreography (Jerry Mitchell) soon have the audience dancing to the indescribably catchy songs and laughing along with the mix of wit and intelligence the show is performed with throughout. There is, however, a further layer below the laughs and the jokes. This show has a real point to make and a real heart to go with it. Aside from becoming the best dancer Tracy Turnblad is determined to integrate the segregated dance show, a motif which is considered throughout the show which serves to both show the severity of racism at the time, and to imprint on the audience the message that it’s OK to be proud of who you are.
In a show full of colourful sets, big wigs and loud sing-along anthems there’s always a chance of some of the actors becoming lost in the mix. However this is not a fate suffered by any of the touring cast of Hairspray. While the entire ensemble is strong, it is the younger members of the cast that steal the hearts of the audience and the show, with Freya Sutton as Tracy Turnblad and Adrian Hansel as Seaweed J Stubbs truly giving a glimpse of the future of musical theatre. Sandra Marvin, as Motormouth Maybelle also more than deserves an honourable mention, not just for playing a rôle that it seems she was born for, but for her breath-taking performance which brought a tear to the eye of many an audience member.
This show has big songs, big dances and even bigger hair which combined with some first-class acting and a whole host of wonderful characters puts many a musical to shame. What sets this apart though, is what lies underneath the wit and the fun; this show is here to give a message about tolerance, a message about standing up for what’s right, and a message about being proud of who you are. It’s a lot for a musical to tackle but Hairspray does it, and it does it without anybody denting their ‘do.
Runs until 29th September