Hairspray at The Regent, Hanley – It’s magic gains a hold on you.
Hairspray is glittery and it’s bouffant. Feel-good musical numbers neatly segue into song and dance routines, and then without missing a beat turn into Motown and Blues. It’s a musical tour de force through the changing cultural landscape of the late ‘50s and ‘60s. By the end it has its audience up on their feet and clapping for more.
The lacquer which holds all of this diversity together is the story of Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad who dreams of being on a TV dance show. She has big hair, big ambitions and a big heart. She’s also bigger in size than most dancers and battles bitchiness to be accepted on the show – which is sponsored by Ultra Clutch, a hairspray company.
This is 1961 when TV is still black and white and Hairspray is more than just fluff and bounce. It aims its nozzle at a variety of prejudices, including racial prejudice and calls for integration instead of segregation. Tracy is the one who is leading this revolution and is engagingly and energetically played by Rosie O’Hare.
The musical is based on the film of the same name and the screen version is harder hitting, more subversive than this production. In the film when Divine is cast as Tracy’s mother Edna it works as a statement about a woman’s role in the home, here it is played by Matt Rixon in more of a pantomime Dame way, but the audience certainly love him for that. The duet between Edna and her husband Wilbur (Graham Macduff) singing You’re Timeless to Me is the show-stopping number worth of the ticket money in itself.
Other songs stand out too, when Dan Partridge, as Tracy’s love interest Link Larkin, sings It Takes Two, it’s not only our heroine who is in a swoon, most of the females watching are with her too. Then comes 2005 X-Factor semi-finalist Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, commanding the stage with her powerhouse voice which sets the hairs on the back of your neck on end. The live orchestra is also a big part of the success of this musical – the lung capacity of the trombone and trumpet players must be bigger than the Regent’s stage itself.
At times the fast delivery of the zingy liners are lost and some jokes dated. You need to take your Great Granny along to explain the Zsa Zsa Gabor reference, but these are minor quibbles. Just like you book a salon appointment when you want a change and to feel better – a night watching Hairspray has the same effect. This musical wants to enact a change (a message still relevant today) while ensuring that everyone leaves the theatre feeling so much more uplifted than when they went in.
Review by Jackie Gregory
Hairspray finished at The Regent on Saturday June 16, 2018.