Some musicals stand the test of time (and multiple UK tours) with apparent ease, such is the caliber of their offering. Hairspray is at the front of that stable and is just the musical the world needs right now!
The show is based on the original John Waters film and see’s ‘plump’ teenager, Tracy Turnblad's attempt to realise her dream - to dance on The Corny Collins Show. When she wins a role, she becomes a celebrity overnight, and meets a colourful array of characters which leads her to campaign for the show’s integration.
The Broadway show won eight Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical, and ran for 2,642 performances. The London production was nominated for a record-setting eleven Olivier Awards, winning four including Best New Musical and a revival is currently running at the London Coliseum. There’s just something about this shows perfect mix of humour, skilful dancing and beautifully integrated sub plot that makes it addictive.
It's a piece which, thanks to the popularity of the 2007 film, has a very special place in the audience's hearts and you find yourself willing the show to succeed. Whilst it deals with some incredibly relevant, powerful and emotive subjects, Hairspray is also a loud, proud dance-athon, which commands you smile from start to finish.
What I witnessed on stage this evening was a two and a half hour masterclass in musical theatre. Each and every performer gave it their all and that resulted in a slick, well rehearsed and effortless performance that hit the nail firmly on the head.
Fresh out of drama school, our leading lady, Katie Brace, was simply brilliant. Haiving seen this show probably the most of any stage musical, Brace was easily my favourite Tracy. Oozing confidence, humour and charisma it's nice to see that she also takes the 'British’ Tracy route and avoids the standard Broadway ‘squeak’ that makes the role almost a caricature - write her name down because you'll definitely be seeing more of her.
Norman Pace starred as Wilbur alongside Alex Bourne's Edna. For me, Pace is the embodiment of Wilbur Turnblad and Bourne is in his element as the shows matriarch. They maintain the warmth and chemistry the characters need and it's impossible not to fall in love with their portrayal. Their version of You're Timeless To Me was just idyllic to watch and had just the right amount of its traditional 'comedy break'. The pudding was not over-egged and the audience reaction said it all.
One character who can almost be forgotten in some castings is Corny Collins. Richard Meek owned the role this evening, giving it the presence and charisma it deserves. With a few extra bits of dialogue thrown in to add to the dynamic, it's a credit to Meek that Corny was more than the glue to hold two bits of story together and was a definitive part of the plot.
However for me, Brenda Edwards once again (and I cannot stress this enough) stole the show. To some extent, I always feel Maybelle can be underused, but Edwards is a powerhouse vocalist who gave the performance of a lifetime this evening.
Her rendition of I Know Where I've Been was simply one of the most stunning vocal efforts I've ever heard in 5+ years of reviewing theatre in the West Midlands and easily wipes the floor with JHud's arrangement in the live action version and Queen Latifah's in the big screen adaptation.
Both of those interpretations are exceptional but could be considered as lacking the emotion that only a stage performance can bring. Well tonight, the power remained but the emotion soared - and you can tell this song means the world to Edwards. Her take on Maybelle remains powerful, dignified, emotional and left everyone in the house in awe of her talent.
However. All that said, it feels wrong to single out individuals because it would be so incredibly easy to applaud every performer on stage tonight. With an ingenous set that made the most of a visuals and a stunning orchestra, it was a privilege to watch, what I honestly believe was, the best production of Hairspray I've seen.
Get the show on your ‘to do list’ for this week. It's an out and out smash hit from start to finish - there really is no better feel good show on tour at the moment.
Hairspray runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 2nd October. For more information, or to get tickets, head to birminghamhippodrome.com.