The touring production of Hairspray is currently dazzling at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, and JLife went along to check it out.
Ask your friends to reel off their favourite musicals and it’s highly likely that the smash hit Hairspray will be nestled somewhere within their answers. Despite its release spanning back to 1988, allowing plenty of time for it to be lost among the flurry of new releases, the ahead-of-its-time dancing, coupled with the relatable challenges of breaking down prejudices and finding love, means that the musical remains anything but dated.
Just like the original film, this brand new production of Hairspray triumphs with an extremely talented cast, but where producers have excelled most is down to the simply stand-out on-stage partnerships. Tony Maudsley (star of ITV’s Benidorm) paints a charismatic and loveable picture as Edna Turnblad alongside the talented Peter Duncan as husband Wilbur – the pair stole the show with their hilarious yet charming duet of ‘You’re Timeless to Me’. Freya Sutton returns to the role of our heroine Tracy Turnblad for which she shines. Her love interest Link Larkin played by Ashley Gilmour gives a polished performance and their theatrical chemistry lights up the stage. And with humour at the heart of the show, Monique Young’s characterisation of Penny Pingleton radiates wit. Her on-stage relationship with mum Prudy is one of the best duos in the show and the catalyst for some of the funniest scenarios.
Every good plot welcomes an antagonist, and exuding glamour and a vendetta in equal measures, Loose Women panellist and former Brookside star Claire Sweeney is a formidable choice as scheming producer, Velma Von Tussle. Many may not have been familiar with her singing credentials beforehand, but after lending her powerhouse vocals to tunes such as ‘Velma’s Revenge’, there will be no doubting them now.
The spellbound audience was particularly blown away by the extraordinary voice of former The X Factor songstress Brenda Edwards. Starring as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray she raised the roof with her renditions of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ and ‘Big, Blonde and Beautiful’; the former darting jolts of sympathy through the audience as they learned of her character’s struggle and conviction. Brenda’s confidence and talent on stage meant she received the loudest applause from the awe-struck crowd.
For us, another noteworthy performance was executed by Dex Lee who shone as Seaweed, Motormouth Maybelle’s son. His energetic dance moves and impressive vocals made him a sensation to watch, and somewhat of an ally to the audience.
Most importantly, the dance routines and soundtrack that made the original so memorable stand strong. The show’s choreography is incredible and plaudits must go to the dance production crew. If you aren’t watching Tracy and Link, you’ll be equally impressed with the talent of all the swing dancers on stage. The group scenes are truly captivating – your eyes zipping from one side of the stage to the other in an attempt to take the whole production in at once for fear of missing all of the many special touches.
This version is also littered with the much-loved songs, including ‘Good Morning Baltimore’. Not only does the show surpass expectations with superb vocals and choreography, audiences are mesmerised by the eye-popping colourful lighting arrangements and vibrant costumes. No element of it shirks away, and the movie’s magic smoothly transfers to the stage.
As the cast took their final bow and the curtains drew to a close, audience members trickled out the doors with only praise for the glittering sequins, black-combed tresses, and toe-tapping music. We might not have a time machine at hand to escort us back to the 1960s, but this fun throwback is the perfect replacement – and one we’d happily return to again. It seems that when it comes to Hairspray, you really can’t “stop the beat”.
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz