REVIEW: Hairspray, Theatre Royal Newcastle, until Saturday, June 30

If you come away from watching this production of the hit musical Hairspray without a grin on your face and a spring in your step, there's something wrong.

Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 2:39 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 11:18 am
Motormouth Maybelle and Tracy Turnblad lead the protest for equal rights.

It was hilarious from start to finish, had some catchy, foot-tapping songs, delivered by a wonderful cast, dance routines to excite, towering hair-dos and a classic feel-good theme of good triumphing over evil. What more could you ask for?

The content may not be the most pc these days but it doesn't shy away from tackling the important fight for civil rights in 1960s USA and the struggle of African Americans to have an equal voice in a world of segregation and discrimination. But it also touches on society's obsession with looks and the prejudices that were endemic as a result.

Motormouth Maybelle sings Big, Blonde and Beautiful.

It is based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name and is set in 1962 Baltimore, where plump teenager Tracy Turnblad's dream is to perform on the Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance programme dominated by white Americans, with just one show a month dedicated to 'Negro Day'.

Tracy wins a part on the show and becomes an overnight celebrity for daring to be different. She meets a group of downtown characters and campaigns for the show's full integration, which leads to landmark social change. "People who are different, their time is coming," she says.

The show was held together by a core of fantastic performances, from Rosie O'Hare as the effervescent Tracy, to bullish Matt Rixon as her mum Edna, a role usually played, panto-dame-style, by a man, and the amazing Brenda Edwards, an X-Factor semi-finalist, as Motormouth Maybelle.

But there are so many supporting roles that are deserving of praise - Graham MacDuff as Tracy's dad Wilbur; the brilliant Jon Tsouras, so assured as Corny Collins; Lucinda Lawrence and Gemma Lawson as the nasty mother-and-daughter double-act Velma and Amber von Tussle; Shak Gabbidon-Williams as Maybelle's son Seaweed, who falls for Tracy's best mate, the gawky Penny Pingleton, played with squeaky perfection by Annalise Liard-Bailey; Dan Partridge as Tracy's idol Link Larkin (no relation!); and Raquel Jones, starring as Little Inez, who is rejected, along with Tracy, for the show by Velma on racial grounds.

Corny Collins and the dancers on his TV show.

Several scenes and moments will live long in the memory. The excellent staging for Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now, involving the three girls, Tracy, Amber and Penny, and their mums in separate little sets and lighting sequences, was among them. It really kick-started the action, big style.

Brenda Edwards, belting out both Big, Blonde and Beautiful and the soulful I Know Where I've Been, had the hairs on my arms bristling with admiration.

Gabbidon-Williams' incredible dancing; the laugh-out-loud comedy duet You're Timeless To Me, between Edna and Wilbur; the many one-liners, "What are you doing in this huge crowd of ... minorities" and "I am a simple housewife of indeterminate girth" among them; Tracy drooling over Link while he sings It Takes Two to her; the jaw-dropping voices of The Dynamites (Marion Fagbemi, Brianna Ogunbawo and Amana Jones) in Welcome to the '60s; the list is seemingly endless.

But it all started with Jon Tsouras, whose confident rendition of Nicest Kids in Town, prompted my daughter, who is a bit of a Hairspray aficionado, to turn to me and say: "Now he's really good."

A scene from the UK tour of Hairspray.

Great credit to the band too who were at the back of the stage, at times as part of the set, enjoying every minute in animated fashion.

The dancing was infectious and built to a pulsating crescendo with the somewhat frenetic and chaotic You Can't Stop the Beat.

Everyone was on their feet for the encore and left the theatre absolutely buzzing, dashing home to practise some of those slick moves.