Hairspray (dir. Paul Kerryson) spritzed its way onto Edinburgh’s Playhouse stage last night and gripped the audience from the moment we said Good Morning to Baltimore. The timeless classic was a colourful treat to the senses and took the audience on an emotional voyage through the turbulent (yet hopeful) 1960s. The musical follows plus size teen Tracy Turnblad (Katie Brace) on her eclectic mission to make it big in the all-white Corny Collins Show. Her ambitions are to make an imprint on the show despite her size, win her teenage heartthrob Link Larkin (Ross Clifton) but most importantly, to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show.
It’s broadly acknowledged that Hairspray is renowned for its catchy tunes, vibrant costumes, messages of empowerment and celebrating diversity, but it serves the purpose of educating audiences brilliantly. In 1962, when Hairspray was set, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and race relations across America were slowly and tentatively becoming more integrated. This was a period of heartache, loss, disempowerment, brutal violence but with glimmers of hope. Hairspray as a musical sets alight that glimmer of hope, and creates a comet of joy, inclusion and togetherness.
Not every production of Hairspray can tactfully educate audiences and retain sheer energy, enthusiasm and talent, whilst also genuinely respecting and celebrating the Black community. This production did, and they did it wonderfully. The casting of the production in particular was spectacular, and the depth of character held by every single member of the production was commendable. Katie Brace’s debut performance as the main character and maverick, Tracy Turnblad, was extremely praiseworthy. She brought life, energy, personality and likability to her already celebrated character.
Alongside Brace’s commendable performance, there were many more casting highlights with the hilarious duo of Edna (Alex Bourne) and Wilber (Norman Pace) Turnblad, the gorgeous and gut-wrenchingly emotive Motormouth Maybell (Bernadette Bangura), the splendid and radical romantic couple Seaweed (Reece Richards) and Penny Pingleton (Rebacca Jayne-Davies) and not least the rotten and grizzly mother and daughter duo of Amber (Jessica Croll) and Velma Von Tussle (Rebecca Thornhill).
The choreography of the performance directed by Drew McOnie, kept the audience fully engaged. This physicality not only showed the absolute talent of these performers, but it showcased the dynamic contrasts between the two communities being represented whilst also highlighting the brilliant costumes created by Takis. The costumes were colourful, thought through and appropriate for the time and place which allowed for us to fully be transported to 1960s Baltimore. With this in mind, the set at points could have been amplified to blend into the eclectic nature of the musical even further. It was indeed lovely to see at points the exposed band that accompanied the majority of the musical numbers.
I was grateful to see that during the protest scenes that the set was projected emotively with real images from the American Civil Rights Movement. This alongside Bangura’s rich and brassy voice during I Know Where I’ve Been ensured that there was not a dry eye in the room, and genuinely allowed for us to think about the real message behind Hairspray.
The moments of joy, hilarity, sorrow and warmth came through in the wonderfully performed musical numbers. The talents of the full cast were evident throughout, from the singing, to the dancing, to the acting. I would recommend this show to anyone who is a Hairspray veteran, a fan of the smash-hit film or a complete newcomer to the musical. A must-see!
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