My first experience of Hairspray was the film. The original film with Rikki Lake, Divine and Debbie Harry . I loved it immediately. I have to be honest and say I have not brought myself round to watching the remake of the film. I just can’t see John Travolta (sex god of Saturday Night Fever and Grease) dress up as a woman. He was my own heart-throb once upon a time. But I had never seen the stage show. So front row on 7th April 2016 I sat down not quite knowing what to expect. A friend had told me that the music was written just for the stage show so I wouldn’t necessarily know the songs from the film.
The story is based around Tracy Turnblad who is a typical teenager in Baltimore during the early 60’s. It’s a common theme of love, fitting in with your peers and racism. Okay racism isn’t always a common theme but this show really addresses it well.
From the first scene of Tracy in bed (an upright bed on stage so we can see her) she is instantly likeable. This makes the whole show work. All the songs have an energy and vibe that makes the show a feel-good show. Tracy is played by Freya Sutton and gives a perfect performance of an chubby but enthusiastic teenager and her love of dancing.
We soon meet her mother Edna who is traditionally played by a man. Matt Rixon honed his inner motherly instincts and was a rather pretty woman. He was totally believable in the role and I enjoyed his performance very much. Her husband is played by Peter Duncan and together they give Morecombe and Wise a run for their money as they are very funny on screen, especially during the number ‘You’re timeless to me’.
Tracy’s best friend is geek Penny, played superbly by Monique Young. Her awkward dancing and nervous status transforms when she falls in love and it is wonderful to experience.
Amber Von Tussle is the all-round cheerleader type. The perfect hair, teeth, weight and level of bitchiness to be the best dancer on the Corny Collins Show. She is played by Lauren Stroud and delivered an effortless performance of Amber. It is hard to play someone that you know the audience may not like as everyone is rooting for Tracy. Lauren plays Amber with perfect balance to that we don’t quite hate her and can forgive her. Claire Sweeney plays Velma, Amber’s mother, who is the producer of the show. Claire was absolutely fantastic in the role and didn’t flinch for a moment out of character. At one point she comes into the audience and stopped in front of me danced then stood on my chair to shout to the rest of the audience that they shouldn’t like Tracy or have ‘coloureds’ on her show. Again it’s a difficult role to play because the character is made to be disliked but Claire was so great in the role and gave respect to Debbie Harry’s (yes Blondie!) original portrayal of the role. If Amber is the cheerleader then her quarterback boyfriend is Link and he is played by Ashley Gilmour who gives a great performance of that teenage heartthrob.
I did mention racism and so let’s talk about some of the best black actors and dancers you will ever see! Seaweed is the star of the Corny Collins Show on ‘Negro day’. Once a month they allow blacks to host a show. Dex Lee plays Seaweed and that boy could sing dance and oozed sex appeal. I was almost expecting Tracy to fall for him instead of Link! Seaweed has a cute little sister, played perfectly by Karis Jack. Her enthusiastic dancing and petite-ness gave the character exactly what she needed. Fantastic performance. Their mother is Motormouth Maybelle and on tonight’s performance was played by Aiesha Pease. Aiesha actually make me cry with her singing of ‘I know where I’ve been’. Simply a faultless performance and extremely moving.
Every single cast member was exceptional and work as a team to bring the show together. The dancers absolutely took my breath away with some of the moves. With the exception of West Side Story (which is my all-time favourite musical) this is the best choreography I have ever seen on stage!
The moral of this show is dream big and it could happen. I am not going to say ‘I have a dream…’ but you get the point.
Well done to everyone involved in Hairspray. If you only see one show this year – make it Hairspray!