Regional Theatre Review: Hairspray

Date Posted: 13/11/2017

Hairspray UK tour

A truly entertaining night out that’s guaranteed to have you on your feet by the end, says GLT after seeing a performance of the current UK tour of Hairspray.

It was with high expectations that I went to the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre to watch the 2017/18 UK tour of Hairspray, and they were met with ease. No doubt it helps that Hairspray is one of my favourite musicals of all time, due to the all-out singing, dancing, and in this case, back-flipping, nature of the show. Look up the definition of ‘musical’ in the dictionary and I bet Hairspray will fit the description.

The theatre show is based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name that starred Ricki Lake, and was produced on Broadway, winning eight Tony awards in 2003. And it’s no wonder so many group travel organisers have taken parties to see the show in the West End, where it won four Laurence Olivier Awards including Best New Musical before closing in 2010. You might have seen the 2007 film version too, which starred John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and James Marsden.

Pictured: Rebecca Mendoza as Tracy Turnblad.

In any case, it’s certainly a popular musical, remaining universally loved due to the many issues it shines a spotlight on (race, gender and body image, for example), as well as the music, which is mainly upbeat with some huge vocal opportunities for the cast.

Add to that the wardrobe of vibrant 60s clothing, an utterly adorable main character whose heart is as big as her hair, and a finale that will have you up on your feet and you’ve got a perfect concoction for a fun night out at the theatre.

The story, set in Baltimore in 1962, follows school girl Tracy Turnblad as she fights for integration on a local TV dance program called The Corny Collins Show. The music includes a number of 1960s-style dance hits and ‘downtown’ rhythm and blues – it’s likely you might already know the big songs such as You Can’t Stop the Beat and Welcome to the 60s.

Highlight performances come from Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Mabel, and Rebecca Mendoza as Tracy. Edwards found fame as a semi-finalist on the X Factor in 2005, and her vocals are of star quality, with her rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been inviting a long-lasting round of applause from the audience. Mendoza’s vocals are also amazing – she takes on several big numbers throughout the musical and her consistent ability to sing so powerfully was inspiring.

Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Mabel

Pictured: Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Mabel.

The audience also took a particular shine to Matt Rixon and Norman Pace who play Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s parents, respectively. With Tracy’s mother played by a man, there was always going to be a certain level of self-awareness from the actors during romantic scenes, in an almost pantomime-esque style – but that only seemed to endear the pair further to the audience. The duet of (You’re) Timeless to Me had everyone laughing, fit to burst.

The only thing Hairspray doesn’t do is bring anything unexpected to the stage – but I don’t mean that in a negative way. Sometimes it’s just nice to enjoy an easy night of being entertained.

If the rest of the UK tour goes as well as the performance I saw, I predict all audiences to have a thoroughly enjoyable time. I bet all of you will be on your feet dancing at the end, too – it’s practically impossible not be infected by the sheer level of energy that sweeps the stage before the curtain falls.

Hairspray is touring UK venues until next June. Group travel organisers should contact their chosen venue for information on group rates and packages. For more information visit www.hairsprayuktour.com.

More about Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre is a £47 million theatre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, that presents a range of West End and touring musicals and plays, along with performances of opera and ballet and a Christmas pantomime.

Group rates are available for a number of shows throughout the year, and can be booked through www.atgtickets.com.

Reviewer: Rachel Bailey

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