Hairspray’s popularity seemed to peak in 2007 following the release of a film adaptation which boasted a star-studded cast including John Travolta and Queen Latifah. The same year, the musical began its life on the West End, but since the end of that run in 2010, seems to have largely faded from the public consciousness. Yet, the currently touring production of Hairspray proves that the musical is back in full force, bringing an abundance of joy, energy and hilarity to stages across the UK.
As the show opens on our protagonist, Tracy Turnblad, propped upright in a cartoon bed and belting the opening notes to ‘Good Morning Baltimore’, the tone is set for an evening of bubblegum pink fun. But the show’s feel good energy is punctuated by its more serious themes, as it tells a story of protesting against segregation against the backdrop of sixties’ Baltimore. This production effectively weaves this together, and the show’s political underpinnings and moments of sincerity are elevated by their surroundings of bright musical numbers.
The cast are consistently, sparklingly brilliant. Rebecca Mendoza as Tracy delivers the power and hilarity at the crux of Hairspray’s beloved protagonist, and Annalise Liard-Bailey as Penny captures the comedy of her character with an unwavering air of bemusement in the face of her best friend’s defiance.
The stand out role, however, is that of Layton Williams as Seaweed. He is at his most impressive during ‘Run and Tell That’, a song giving voice to pride in blackness despite living in an era in which hatred was legitimised by law. The song is politically charged whilst remaining witty and cheeky: ‘the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, I can say it ain’t so but darling – what’s the use?.’ Williams takes the role on with strength and buckets of talent, proving himself as one to watch through his seamless execution of choreography and perfect vocals.
Another highlight of the show is the relationship between Tracy’s parents Edna and Wilbur, played by Matt Rixon and Norman Pace. The silly yet touching ‘(You’re) Timeless to Me’ is brimming with earthy humour. The audience are left in stitches by the comic dynamic between the two actors, who represent the couple with warmth and hilarity.
Brenda Edwards, who shines as Motormouth Maybelle, delivers ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ in what is perhaps the climax of the show; an outpouring of emotion and resistance to oppression.
What is most memorable about the production is the slickness of the choreography, executed perfectly by its cast. Dancing from a school disco to a prison, it is often breath taking and never, ever boring.
As the cast dance off stage following the show’s finale of ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’, the audience is left with the afterglow of a musical overflowing with power and enthusiasm for its values. The message of Hairspray remains timeless, and this production cements its status as a much-loved classic of musical theatre.
Hairspray The Musical
Image: Darren Bell