Hairspray – Review – Bradford Alhambra
Hairspray – Review
Bradford Alhambra, November 2017
by Steve Crabtree – @stevecrab
Years ago, I saw the movie version of Hairspray with my nieces who were very, very young at the time – and they absolutely loved it. I know I enjoyed the film with them, but I can’t remember much about the storyline (other than the fact that John Travolta dressed up as a woman). So when some fantastic people tell me what a fantastic musical Hairspray is, then I’d be silly not to come along to the Alhambra and see it for myself.
Opening nights are always great here. In the foyer it’s a busy, predominantly female crowd; and you pick up that excited buzz that you feel when people kind of know what they’re about to see.
Curtain up, and we’re taken back to 1962 Baltimore, in to the bedroom of Tracey Turnblad, and we’re straight in to an energetic, lively start. This initial fast-pace continues when the rest of the cast bounce on to the stage, bringing with them an abundance of colour, bright light and some unbelievable dance moves.
Rebecca Mendoza is playing the role of the sweet, silly and often ditzy Tracey splendidly. With ambitions of making it as a dancer on the ‘Corny Collins TV Show’, Tracey makes it her mission to succeed in her dream.
But it’s obvious that Hairspray isn’t just a story about ambition. There’s a love blossoming between Tracey and dancer Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks); and also between Tracey’s best friend Penny Pingleton (Annalise Liard-Bailey) and Seaweed (Layton Williams). Williams is the most incredible dancer on a stage of incredible dancers tonight, and Liard-Bailey is apparently making her professional debut in this show – something I’m shocked to hear. She’s excellent and has a great future ahead of her if this performance is anything to go by.
The relationship between Penny and Seaweed is integral to the storyline. As an inter-racial couple, the stark problem of segregation of the white and black communities of the day is a prominent subject. The old traditionalists are stuck in their anti-black ways, while the younger crowd are open minded to promoting “integration”.
But despite these sombre themes there’s not a dull moment on the stage. As the story fuses love, race and bigotry, there’s still a sense of euphoria captured in the musical numbers which keeps the level of fun running high all the way through the production.
Comedy and hilarity is rife in and amongst the dancing, and the superb choice of Matt Rixon and Norman Pace as Tracey’s mother and father respectively has been a masterstroke. There’s a point where they’re on stage together and there seems to be a technical hitch with one of the props. It’s either scripted or genuine – but how they ride that out together is spectacular, professional and hilarious. It brings the house down.
As do the vocals of Brenda Edwards, who plays Motormouth Maybelle. The X-Factor semi-finalist provides wow-factor and draws huge cheers from the crowd with her incredible voice. Personally, I’m taken aback by how good she is.
If there was ever an appropriate show for the term “musical” then this is it. What an enjoyable night. It’s been a real feel-good production, very funny with the pure joy transmitting from the stage to those of us watching. We’re all on our feet and joining in the dancing for the finale.
Hairspray has had a firm hold on a packed Bradford audience tonight, and it’s a tour which is very worthy of its 12-month run.