Hairspray The Musical – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Rachel Howard, April 2018
Hairspray – it may conjure up images of John Travolta in drag or Ricki Lake before she became a cult chat-show host – or it may just make you hum along to its theme tune ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’.
Whatever your preconceptions of this musical, there isn’t much that can prepare for you for the spectacle that awaits. I’ve been to many musicals over the years, but Hairspray was an elusive one, until this week at Hull New Theatre.
The touring show has been on the road since August 2017 and continues through until summer 2018, selling out auditoriums right across the UK. Opening night in Hull saw a near full house and the atmosphere was one of excitement, high energy and fun.
“Entertaining, high energy”
For those not familiar with the storyline, the audience is whisked back to 1962 Baltimore, where dance-loving Tracy Turnblad gets the opportunity to audition for her favourite television programme, ‘The Corny Collins Show’. Despite not fitting the show’s stereotype of a slim teenage airhead, Tracy auditions and uses her position on the small screen not only to conquer her own dreams, but those of a new, more tolerant generation who are fighting for racial integration and equality in a city still dominated by racism and segregation.
The curtain opens to Tracy waking up to a new day in Baltimore, her hopes and dreams ready to come true. Rebecca Mendoza sets the scene for the show by effortlessly holding her own as she single-handedly belts out ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ with power, passion and emotion. Mendoza heads up a cast that are phenomenally talented, entertaining, high-energy and fully committed to the characters they are portraying. It’s easy to forget you are watching a touring musical, and not a long-running West End or Broadway production.
Stand out members of the cast include Matt Rixon who, carrying on tradition, dons drag to play Tracy’s mother, Edna. Norman Pace (Hale & Pace) plays Tracy’s father, Wilbur, and forms an ingenious double act with Rixon, played out beautifully in the second half. Brenda Edwards of 2005 X Factor fame brings a new level of power to the stage as Motormouth Maybelle.
On the surface, Hairspray is a fluffy, fun, feel-good musical, but it’s actually so much more than that. The issues surrounding the era’s race relations are prominent and are portrayed with conviction by the whole cast but specifically Motormouth Maybelle, Velma Von Tussel (brilliantly depicted by Gina Murray) and Seaweed – played on opening night by the incredible understudy Jordan Laviniere. The ensemble cast are just as impressive, dancing and singing their way into the hearts of the audience.
Special mention must be given to the choreographer Drew McOnie and the set and costume designer Takis. They have managed to tread a very fine line between producing a colourful, fun musical without taking away from the far more complex undertones of the story. This is a musical that really has it all – laughter, tears, romance, teenage angst and the will to change the world.
The storyline is, of course, key to any show. This adaptation of the book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan is of the highest quality, but it’s the performances on stage that really raise this show into the upper echelons of musical theatre. The sheer talent of the cast is enough to make me want to go back and watch it again and again. The atmosphere as I left the theatre confirmed that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. “One of the best shows I’ve seen”, “So funny” and “I loved it” were just a few of the comments I heard as made my way home.
When Hairspray the Musical comes to a theatre near you, do yourself a favour – buy a ticket, say ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ and settle in for what I guarantee will be one of the best shows you’ve seen in a long time.