HAIRSPRAY Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman.
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Running Time – 2 hours 30 minutes – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – 28 June 2021
John Waters early film creations were subversive, counter-culture and of dubious taste – they were immediately labelled ‘cult’. His was not the world of family entertainment, but it was in the early 1980’s with films such as ‘Polyester’ and ‘Hairspray’ and his childhood friend, Glenn Milstead – better known as the drag artist, ‘Divine’ – that he lurched towards the mainstream. ‘Hairspray’ was only moderately successful, but when it was translated into a musical, this story of Tracy Turnblad and her fight to get racial integration on a TV music and dance show, became a huge hit.
Bright, colourful, frothy, tongue-in-cheek it may be, but the race card is played in full view of the audience – it may be set in 1962, but still – sadly – resonates today. It may not be the most subtle piece of social commentary, but it does lay a solid foundation for the storyline.
Back on tour – having been put on ice during 2020 – the show is never less than a blast! Pared down a little to cope with these times, it is just the kind of tonic we all need and the audience reacted accordingly.
Leading from the front in a high-energy, fun and funny performance is Katie Brace as Tracy – obviously having a ball – she gives her all – whatever she is on, then the audience feed off it. As her mother, Alex Bourne (last seen at Plymouth as Daddy Warbucks in ‘Annie’), is a rather less aggressive and showy Edna. It is a performance that is much more subtle than I have seen before and not played as a grotesque; I think it is a much better interpretation for it. Norman Pace brings all his considerable comic experience to the role of the fairly hopeless Wilbur – he is a joy to watch and the duet with Edna – ‘You’re Timeless to Me’ – is a comedy and poignant tour-de-force.
Richard Meek is wonderfully cheesy as Corny Collins and Ross Clifton gives an easy-on-the eye and ear performance as Link Larkin. Meanwhile Rebecca Thornhill has huge fun as the bitchy and razor-tongued Velma Von Tussle as does Jessica Croll as her daughter, Amber. Aleem Ellis-Hyman is able to display all his performing skills; acting, singing and dancing and it is a joy to behold. With her belting voice, Brenda Edwards returns to the role of Motormouth Maybelle – her rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ gives everyone goosebumps – it’s powerful stuff.
The whole ensemble is excellent and are backed by a note-perfect 8-piece band which made the most of the cracking score.
The use of projections is always a little risky. I don’t recall them from seeing the show previously, but they don’t entirely work – often rather washed out by the on-stage lighting.
The one reservation aside, overall this is a very enjoyable production and performed with verve and joy.
This is the ideal show for our times and as, it criss-crosses the country on its tour, it will bring smiles to more and more faces as theatres fill and people seek out entertainment they have missed.
EDNA TURNBLAD – ALEX BOURNE
WILBUR TURNBLAD – NORMAN PACE
MOTORMOUTH MAYBELLE – BRENDA EDWARDS
TRACY TURNBLAD – KATIE BRACE
VELMA VON TUSSLE – REBECCA THORNHILL
CORNY COLLINS – RICHARD MEEK
LINK LARKIN – ROSS CLIFTON
SEAWEED J STUBBS – AKEEM ELLIS-HYMAN
AMBER VON TUSSLE – JESSICA CROLL
PENNY PINGLETON – REBECCA JANE DAVIES
LITTLE INEZ – CHARLOTTE ST CROIX
DIRECTOR – PAUL KERRYSON
CHOREOGRAPHY – DREW MCONIE
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – BEN ATKINSON