The effervescent musical, Hairspray, explodes on stage at Malvern Theatres for the first time this week. Bringing a whole new audience demographic to the venue, this latest incarnation of the show delivers awesome vocals, vibrant choreography and a feel good factor that would soften the hardest of hearts. Set in Baltimore in 1962 at a time of monumental political and social change, it is a giddy tale of one teenagers belief for a brighter future and the lengths she’ll go to achieve her dreams.
The first accolade has to go to the ridiculously talented band, headed by Musical Director, Ben Atkinson. The accompaniment is so tight that it’s hard to believe it’s live. Equally slick is, local lad, Drew McOnie’s fresh choreography. The wonderful ensemble immaculately and enthusiastically executes his deliciously smooth moves, somehow defying exhaustion. Paul Kerryson, with the help of Grindrod Associates, cast a superb array of skilled performers who, on the whole, are perfect in their parts.
The creator of Pixar says that for a story to work you have to make the audience care about the characters and this is where this production truly succeeds. Freya Sutton, in the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, is so endearing and authentic in her fight for rights and justice. Add to this her peppy vocals, a smile that beams and her cheeky dance moves and you cannot help but adore her. Ashley Gilmour is charming as her unlikely love interest Link Larkin who goes through an emotional transformation almost as dramatic as Monique Young’s physical one in her role as Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton. It is a big ask for her to match Dex Lee’s outstanding performance as Seeweed but they are a perfect pairing. The chiselled Jon Tsouras is ideal as TV star, Corny Collins, as is Lauren Stroud as Tracey’s nemesis, Amber Von Tussel.
Although possibly miscast in the role of Amber’s mother, Claire Sweeney still proves her metal as an accomplished singer. Tony Maudsley and Peter Duncan are absolutely delightful as Tracy’s devoted parents, Edna and Wilba, and utterly convincing in the portrayal of their everlasting love for each other. Finally, Brenda Edwards is stunning as Motormouth Maybelle and gives the most incredible, awe inspiring rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been, culminating in a breathing finish when joined by the rest of the cast. Phenomenal!
Hairspray runs at Malvern until Saturday and then continues on a UK tour. An unquestionable must-see production! ★★★★★ Rob Holcroft 8th October 2015