Tuesday, November 29

Hairspray – Sheffield Lyceum

Sheffield Lyceum’s opening night after 17 months of darkness – Hairspray is resoundingly resplendent, raucous and right on point. The show highlights many modern day issues that are particularly relevant today, that of Racism, Body Image and Sexism but never in a heavyweight way. It can be difficult to achieve this but, Hairspray packages these issues with a buoyant bouffant and plenty of toe tapping tunes.  Set in Baltimore in the 1960’s we follow the trailblazer Tracy Turnblad as she stands up for equality and proves there is no place for the word ‘minorities’ in the dawn of a new era.

The staging on the UK tour remains traditional and is mainly made up of backdrops and two trucks which represent the Turnblad household on stage right and the Pingleton/ Motormouth Record Store on the left of stage. This was quite minimalistic but enables the cacophony of sound and kaleidoscope of colour that is Hairspray, a space to fully consume. Known as a classi, equally book and dance show, this did not disappoint. The Dancing was prolific and pacy and the story moved with clarify and compassion. It really did pack a powerful punch.

There were a few expected hiccups in the opening night performance such as a 30 minute delay to the start of the show, some slight backdrop movement and missing light and sound cues, but nothing that detracted from the fun and the audience raising of the roof. Maybe it was the pleasure of seeing live theatre again? I think not for after seeing many versions of this show I can honestly say this cast is the strongest I have seen. There isn’t a weak link amongst this cast, and it equals, if not surpasses, the present West End Cast – this production has bags of personality and is buoyant and rife with crisp vitality.

Outstanding, Katie Brace is a breath of fresh air to the role of troublemaking revolutionary Tracy Turnblad. Played with more than a little feisty charm and vocals that match her high energy performance. The show is driven by this character and Brace shows complete command. Her rendition of ‘I can hear the Bells’ was particularly amusing, and her infatuation of the hunky Link Larkin, played by a very cool Ross Clifton, has a naivety yet a fieriness I had not seen before.

The role of Edna Turnblad; Tracy’s plus sized mother; that has been eternalised by actors such as John Travola, Devine, Michael Ball and Harvey Fierstein was played on the UK tour refreshingly by Alex Bourne. Bourne’s less ‘draggy vamp’ and more sincerity really worked and allowed Edna to grow as she began to believe in herself, rather than be overshadowed by the ‘touching on’ pantomime dame.  Norman Pace from ‘Hale and Pace’ fame proves his comedic worth as husband Wilbur, yet his love for his family is evident within his dynamic performance. The Edna and Wilbur duet ‘Timeless to Me’ was milked for every giggle, including the obligatory corpsing as the foreplay gets more risqué and was a real crowd pleaser. It was the sincerity in the reprise that added a new dimension to this number though as they kissed – a delight to witness. 

Brenda Edwards, X factor finalist, held the audience in the palm of her hand as Motormouth Maybelle with her powerhouse vocals in the emotive showstopper ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, the rendition is as poignant as it is powerful and wholeheartedly deserved the rapturous applause it received. I cannot praise Rebecca Jayne-Davies enough, she was memorising in the role of Penny Pingleton, and the intricate detail this young performer sustains throughout the show is breath-taking.

The role of Velma Von Tussle was in vampy vicious hands with Rebecca Thornhill, she is a classy performer with a vocals of the same calibre. Jessica Croll, as her daughter Amber Von Tussle played an equally vindictive sidekick to her mother and make the perfect nemesis for Tracy. The three Dynamites were played by Bernadette Bangura, Natalia Brown and Amandla Elynah and their vocals were superb, so much so I wish they had a bigger role in the show! The Nicest kids in town and the whole ensemble were fully committed to the show and their exuberance and vivaciousness filled the stage and the theatre. The audience were on their feet dancing and singing to the finale number ‘You can’t stop the Beat’, myself included which doesn’t happen very often.

What a wonderful way to welcome back live theatre – Hairspray is the perfect show with the perfect cast to do this. The standing ovation was spontaneous and like me, I am sure the whole audience smiled all the way home.  Simply Delightful.  

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 16th August 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★

Hairspray continues at Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 21st August with full information and tickets available at https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/hairspray

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