Musicals have a certain sticking power in the public eye. A culmination of music and drama, a well-executed, well-written production can stand the test of time if it clicks with audiences. The accompanied popularity of the format makes names such as Lloyd-Webber more prevalent than Chekov in the current day and age. It is for this reason (and ticket sales) that Hairspray has now returned for its fourth UK tour a mere seven years after the original UK tour.
Set in 1960s America, Hairspray looks at Tracy Turnblad: a “pleasantly plump” teenager with dreams of dancing with “The Nicest Kids in Town” on The Corny Collins Show. When faced with this opportunity, despite being challenged by the show’s producer Velma, and her daughter Amber, she takes a slot on the show; she soon becomes aware of the blatant and unsavoury racism that is fuelled by Velma and Amber, which ultimately sparks a journey to reach equality on the show and send a powerful message to the nation.
I was delighted to find that vocally there was not a weak link in the cast, many of whom I could easily describe as triple-threats. The harmonies never slipped, and sounded incredible alongside a brilliant live band: something that I personally believe to be integral to musicals that were scored for real instruments. Together, the cast and the band create musical magic, ranging from high-energy chorus numbers, to delightful duets and solos.
This production uses a very particular style of less naturalistic acting that wouldn’t work for every show. Yet, when dialogue and songs can be cut through or accompanied by various flips and other physical marvels, it fits perfectly. If anything, it adds to the 60s aesthetic and embraces the stereotypical idea of a feel-good musical, which this achieves wonderfully and undeniably.
As a touring show, there are limitations to the set, mainly in terms of transportation, and the amount of time it will take to move the set from venue to venue. A good balance between flash and finesse has been struck, meaning the stage never became cluttered. This efficient design works well and allows the enormous performances to fill the space rather than props.
Spending an evening listening to sensational vocal performances, and embracing the uplifting and positive message of Hairspray is certainly beneficial. The production is not without fault, but it is still a musical worth seeing, especially when performed by such a talented cast brimming with energy. ★★★★☆ Jeremy Ulster 10th October 2017