Review: Hairspray @ New Theatre, Cardiff
Monday 21st March 2016
Hairspray is a film turned musical, done right.
Everything about it keeps to the original, adding a bit more mainstream accessibility, yet still being in the vein of John Waters.
I can now proudly say I've seen all versions of Hairspray. The original 1988 film of Waters is joyously vile, featuring Ricky Lake, Divine and even Debbie Harry. The film of the stage musical from 2007 is its own sort of beast, pleasing and pressing most of the right buttons. This musical of the original film, I can proudly say is an absolute success.
It's so wonderful to have a new musical (based on originally made material) and not pander to a sheep-like audience, expecting actual songs from the time period. Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman should be very proud of their musical creation. Most of them are gems and are the definition of catchy.
The show has a great message of being true to yourself: Tracy Turnblad, a plump, giddy girl has the dream to dance on TV in The Corny Collins Show. With her larger-than-life mother Edna, joke shop owning father Wilbur, Penny her dorky best friend and fellow detention goer Seaweed, they endeavour to ignite the civil rights movement in their hometown of Baltimore, so that she and her friends can all dance equally on the box. After all, TV back then was both black and white.
Hairspray is at times hilarious, moving and in general just a real swell time. The uplifting nature of the show can be traced back to the essence of the source material: John Waters and his often silly, sexy and sordid film work, which you certainly don't forget in a hurry. The sets here are ambitious, so much so that the show broke down for about ten minutes as repairs were being made, as an excitable audience waited with keen anticipation. The costumes are as over the top as everything else with the show, a bright torrent of PVC, felt and early 60s throwbacks. An immaculate band, who really had the sense of being an ensemble for a musical, know just what they're doing and really make the show extra special.
Freya Sutton is an inspiring lead as Tracy, with all the wit, warmth and charm we should expect from this role. Max Rixon is her mother Edna, an effective mix of both Divine and Michael Ball's versions, bringing hilarity everywhere he goes. An unrecognisable Claire Sweeney is head villain Velma von Tussle, a middle-aged spoiled brat producer, who says no people of colour should be on her show. It's another delicious role that must be real fun to play and her child Amber, played by Lauren Stroud, is another hissy queen of great proportions. Peter Duncan as Wilbur is loveable and his rendition of You're Timeless To Me is full of pathos and a Sinatra-like brilliance. Brenda Edwards is a rousing Motormouth Maybelle, especially during the protest scene in which she belts out her stellar vocals.
Dex Lee as Seaweed is also an outstanding singer and dancer, his Run And Tell That is beyond sexy and the vocals enough to raise the roof. Jon Tsouras: a suave Corny, all chirpy and nice for his show, but damning against Velma as she continues her plot for revenge. Link Larking, the cute young stud with the "voice like Elvis", is here performed by Ashley Gilmour and is young presence with much appeal, if a little stilted at times. Penny, the definition of a nerd was tackled expertly by Monique Young, bringing out her awkward remarks and curt corrections to the others. Her transformation at the end to a powerhouse, 60s diva is a revelation to the shock of her ultra religious mother. Most of the smaller roles are here shared between Adam Price and Tracey Penn, the former doing a mocking policeman very well and the latter an outrageous prison warden and a gym teacher who's a little too keen to get the girls in the showers...
My favourite songs have to be the opening Good Morning Baltimore, Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now, Miss Baltimore Crabs, Run And Tell That, You're Timeless To Me and the now iconic You Can't Stop The Beat (which should be said is a big gay anthem now as well).
One hell of a swell time.
See at any cost.
Rating: 5 stars
Weeping Tudor Productions present Satiefest, a Cardiff bases festival starting in May with the birthday celebrations, Medusa's Trap and a lecture from Caroline Potter on her new book about Satie. Dates and locations TBC.
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