I suspect it is fair to say that when the original John Waters Hairspray movie was released in 1988 to only moderate success, many people didn’t expect it to spawn a musical (admittedly 14 years later), a movie remake and still be performed around the world almost thirty years after the cult movie hit the screen, along the way becoming a cult classic.
In fact the when Hairspray the musical first reached the stage, it scooped an incredible eight Tony Awards with 13 nominations in a hugely successful run with the London production also performing well with a series of Olivier Award nominations and victories.
Watching the production at the Palace Theatre, it is easy to spot the reason for this success, or at least the combination of factors which have resulted in Hairspray receiving consistently high acclaim – energy, humour and catchy numbers.
The key to the fast paced, high energy, performance lies, in many ways in lead performer Freya Sutton who reprises the role of Tracy Turnblad following a previous successful tour. Turnblad is the larger than life character, who far from the stereotype of television dancers in the Baltimore scene of 1962 is a big girl with big hair. Pursuing her dream of dancing her way on to national TV she auditions for a role on the Corny Collins television show, winning over the host, much to the chagrin of producer Velma Von Tussle (Claire Sweeney) who has her own agenda in furthering the career of her daughter Amber (Lauren Stroud), with whom she battles for the honour of Teen Queen and tries to win the affection of heartthrob Link (Ashley Gilmour) along the way. But there is far more to Tracy’s dreams than winning the crown as she battles the shallow and superficial world of celebrity and fights for integration, having befriended the black dancer Seaweed (Dex Lee) and seen her best friend Penny (the excellent Monique Young) enter into a taboo relationship with him, much to her mother’s (initial) dismay.
Hairspray is filled with excellent performances. Standing out amongst them, though, are Dex Lee as Seaweed and Brenda Edwards as his mother Motormouth Maybelle, whose vocal performance is both powerful and exceptional.
In fact against an excellent stage setting, the singing and dancing throughout are of in incredible standard and numbers such as Welcome to the 60s and You Can’t Stop The Beat have the audience bouncing around in their seats (and on their feet as the final act comes to a close).
The musical is filled with comedy, with Tony Maudsley as mother Edna Turnblad and Peter Duncan as her husband Wilbur Turnblad in particularly stealing many scenes and, rightly, receiving frequent rapturous applause. The comedic element of Hairspray varies from one-liners to slapstick, with a healthy amount of innuendo and the odd, almost infantile, joke (Amber sings about Cooties in the final showdown between herself and Tracy).
It could be argued that the message is still as relevant today as it was back when it was first released. In many ways it is and the message is pushed home to the audience throughout, with fat jokes and racist comments making audience members cringe as to how things used to be (and sadly sometimes still are).
At the close, a thrilled audience give the show, and in particular Freya Sutton and Tony Maudsley, a standing ovation. Deservedly so.
Hairspray is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until 31 October.
You may also be interested in: