The John Waters film “Hairspray” has always struck me an odd source for a Broadway musical stemming from the sub-sub-cultural independent movie starring the Ricki Lake and the unsettlingly bizarre Divine. Waters films were, and perhaps still are, deliberately shocking, subversive and cheaply shot. But musicals have been created from odder sources – cats and trains spring to mind. Since 2002 “Hairspray – the musical” has delighted audiences on Broadway and West end and beyond with noted performances from Michael Ball and Brian Conley. So far, it’s ticking all the right boxes and a fun night seem to be ensured…
Okay, so the place was full of engaged, delighted and whooping fans intent on a good night and a good night they had, though I’m not sure the show was entirely responsible for it. The opening was under energised and lacked vim, the young cast didn’t seem to connect to the material and some of the references missed their target (who got the Jackie Gleason gag?). It’s a show entrenched in American cultural references all of which are bravely deployed by the cast most of which tumbled over the heads of audience. The economical set (two side pieces and a back projection) was surprisingly spartan but peopled with some bright and vibrant performances especially from our Edna (Alex Bourne) and Wilbur (an under used Norman Pace) who together proved a simply choreographed two hander number can sometimes knock the spots off a full-blown chorus routine. Their duet proved itself a high spot of the evening. Katie Brace as Tracy Turnblad held her own admirably against such heavy weights and provided an endearing focal point for the story.
Add to all that some great tunes and a kick-arse final song which lifted the second act considerably and you have a happy, odd but crowd pleasing show which does exactly what it says on the spray can.
Hairspray continues at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 2nd October https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/hairspray-2/
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 27th September
North West End UK Rating: ★★★