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BWW Review: HAIRSPRAY, Grand Opera House York

BWW Review: HAIRSPRAY, Grand Opera House YorkBWW Review: HAIRSPRAY, Grand Opera House YorkEver since John Waters introduced us to Tracy Turnblad and co in his cult 1988 film, audiences have come to expect big voices, big dance numbers and even bigger hair. Luckily, the 2017/18 touring production of Hairspray delivers in a production that is colourful, energetic and full of soul.

The year is 1962 in Baltimore, and young dreamer Tracy wants nothing more than to find love and fame dancing on her favourite TV show "The Nicest Kids in Town". When she bags herself a spot the feisty teen is rocketed to stardom, using her voice to fight against segregation and catching the eye of heartthrob Link Larkin along the way.

This is a production where the supporting roles really shine. From Matt Rixon's delightfully hammy portrayal of Edna Turnblad to Gemma Lawson's perfectly bratty villain Amber Von Tussle, there's never a bum note nor a comedy moment missed. The genuine comedic skill of many of the actors is impressive - and by the sound of the big laughs they were getting, the audience agreed.

The absolute highlight, however, is Brenda Edwards' stunning performance as matriarch Motormouth Maybelle. Every time she opens her mouth all eyes are on her, and I'll freely admit I was wiping a tear from my eye during her rousing rendition of "I Know Where I've Been" - rarely have I seen a performer who can so effortlessly balance such vocal power with real emotion.

A small but not insignificant drawback is our heroine Tracy being padded to achieve her trademark full figure. That's not to detract from Rosie O'Hare's performance, as she plays Tracy with all the sass, joy and sparkle she's known for, but in a show that's all about celebrating diversity and beauty regardless of race, creed or size, it would have been the cherry on the cake to see that fully represented in the casting.

Regardless, director Paul Kerryson produces a spectacular version of Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's enduring musical - and a visual treat alongside the wonderful performances.

Colourful costumes (by Takis), sequins and psychedelic lights abound for a taste of the Swinging Sixties, and some impressive choreography (Drew McOnie) and very fast feet keep the energy high throughout. There's also some innovative staging, including projected backdrops, and slick moving set-pieces that carry the show from one scene to another without a hitch.

As soon as the live band starts to play, you'll be tapping your feet and resisting the urge to sing along (or not resisting at all, if you're anything like some of the audience members near me)!

Hairspray is two and a half hours of fun with a timeless message. It's sad to see themes about race and inequality that are still relevant today, but a testament to the show and this adaptation that it still manages to do those issues justice in a way that's moving, uplifting and a big party all at once.

Hairspray at the Grand Opera House York until 21 July, before continuing on tour

Photo credit: Grand Opera House York


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From This Author Sarah Ryan