Bank holiday weekend, and the last week before kids are back to school and what better than a treat to see musical phenomenon Hairspray as it hits the stage in Liverpool!
We arrived at the theatre in plenty of time but were greeted by a massive queue snaking around all the way to the entrance of the Lime Street Station. The queue, presumably due to the checking of covid status in addition to bag searches and tickets, was rather frustrating and after waiting 20 to 30 minutes to enter, we reached the front of the queue for 7.30pm by which time the show was already starting late (as half the audience was still outside), meaning a mad dash to find your seat and prepare. Not a great start I must say, but fingers crossed this can be much better organised for the next show in the run…
After this rather stressful start we were more than ready to be whisked away to Baltimore. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of the show let me fill you in a little…it’s the 1960s and Tracy Turnblad has big hair, a big heart and big dreams of dancing her way on to her favourite show, “The Corny Collins show”, and into the heart of teen idol, Link Larkin. But on her way to becoming a star she must fight for liberation, tolerance, and interracial unity.
The show is a sensation, full of energy from start to finish, and jam packed with feel good songs! Katie Brace as Tracey Turnblad is a star, giving a performance as big as her hair! Her vocal strength, impeccable dance skills and brilliant comedy acting make her a true triple treat. And as this show is her professional debut (and what a role for a debut), I’m sure we’re due to see great things from her in the future.
In tonight’s performance, we had the pleasure of seeing Paul Hutton as the role of Edna Turnblad, a role iconically played by the great John Travolta. Partnered with Norman Pace as Wilbur Turnblad, the pair had the audience belly laughing and clapping along to the wonderfully sweet ‘You’re Timeless to Me’. They even added the occasional cheeky joke which caused a few chuckles through the audience.
Akeem Ellis-Hyman gave a stellar performance as Seaweed: his voice had a wonderful modern yet soulful rendition of ‘Run and Tell That’, one of my all-time favourite numbers from the show. But the true show stopping performance was from X Factor Semi-Finalist, and regular Loose Woman Panellist, Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle. Her performance of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ was stunning, so powerful both vocally and emotionally, ending in a rapturous applause from the audience who were immediate on their feet for a mid-show standing ovation (a rare sight I must say).
It was a pleasant surprise to see the superb orchestra placed in full view on stage within the Corny Collins filming set, playing the host of buoyant songs throughout. The show offers boundless energy from start to finish, but never as a threat to the vocal talent. I honestly don’t know how they all danced such magnificent routines with so much vigour and still managed to belt out those catchy tunes. And of course, the one big one that everyone loves ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ had you grinning from ear to ear and had the whole audience clapping along.
As a whole, the production is a story that tackles issues that are well and truly still part of our society today, such as body consciousness and race. It teaches us that we must break down prejudice and strive for greater tolerance in the world. Despite these serious themes, the show is an unstoppable force guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face! It’s bright, bold and bloody good fun.
Hairspray continues at The Liverpool Empire Theatre until Saturday 4th September. Tickets available from – https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/hairspray-the-musical/liverpool-empire/
Reviewer: Alison Ruck
Reviewed: 30th August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★