Based on the film by a true icon of queer culture, John Waters, the musical version Hairspray first hit Broadway in 2002. The show tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-size teen with big hopes and even bigger hair, who aspires to dance on The Corny Collins Show and live in a desegregated America. Set in Baltimore in 1962, ‘Negro Day’ is the only day of the month that the all-white cast of The Corny Collins Show features any sort of diversity. With the help of a quirky cast of characters, including Tracy’s suspiciously deep-voiced mother Edna (played by the very male Matt Rixon) and the ‘big, blonde and beautiful’ Motormouth Maybelle (Brenda Edwards), the Turnblads and Baltimore’s black community set out to make a change.
I went into this musical with high hopes. Staging and casting aside, the songs have been instant classics since they first hit Broadway. Luckily, the cast delivered. Strong, harmony-filled versions of songs like ‘I Can Hear The Bells’ and ‘Welcome To The Sixties’ had the audience whooping and occasionally singing along throughout the two-and-a-half hour performance.
However, there was something about Hairspray that was just a little bit… flat. Awash with non-stop dance numbers and piercing nasally American accents, this version of the show hit a dip somewhere in the middle. There are only so many times that an, admittedly gorgeous and ferociously talented, ensemble can appear on stage and wow you with their dance moves before you start to look for the substance beneath it all.
The message of inclusivity behind Hairspray couldn’t more relevant now, considering everything that’s going on in the world (*cough* Trump *cough*), but there were very few times when the reality of the black characters’ lives shone through. One of these moments was during Brenda Edwards’ delivery of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been‘, which could have garnered a standing ovation there and then.
It wasn’t until the second half of the show that most of the characters really got into their element. Odd-couple Edna and Wilbur Turnblad’s duet was punctuated with the two leads corpsing after a prop mishap and winning the audience over. Former Billy Elliot star Layton Williams shone as Seaweed, while leading-lady Rebecca Mendoza was contagiously optimistic as Tracy Turnblad, with top-notch comedic timing and set of lungs to match. By the end of the show, the closing number ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat‘ had the audience up out of their seats and dancing along.
“This modern classic is already starting to feel a little bit outdated.”
As far as musicals go, Hairspray really does tick all the boxes that make for a great time at the theatre. It’s got singing, dancing and really is a lot of fun, but this modern classic is already starting to feel a little bit outdated, with jokes often falling flat and its message about racism getting lost in a miasma of non-stop high kicks and jazz hands.
Hairspray is at The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from September 11-16. Book your tickets here
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