Review by Hannah Wilkin
For more listings at Sunderland Empire click here
There are few things better than dancing round the kitchen whilst belting out ‘You can’t stop the beat’ at the top of your lungs. Hairspray is full of fantastic and relatable characters; it celebrates embracing your own uniqueness and champions the fight for Civil Rights. It’s bursting with catchy songs, hilarious lines and set in the swinging sixties, so what’s not to love? I leapt at the chance to see this sparkling production live on stage and it did not disappoint.
If you haven’t heard of, or watched, Hairspray before (what on earth have you been doing?!) It follows the story of Tracy Turnblad, ‘a big girl with even bigger hair’, who dreams of singing and dancing on the Corny Collins TV show. Set in 1960’s Baltimore the story battles with various ideas about prejudice.
The first thing I would say about the production however is this: it is different to the film. If you’re a huge fan of the film, take yourself to one side before it starts and prepare yourself because it will be different. Of course it isn’t the same actors and there are different lines (‘Acne of the soul’ is my new favourite insult), but there are also differences in major plot points. For the first minute or two I found this hard to handle, but once the show got going it blossomed into something beautiful. It particularly shone during songs that aren’t actually in the film such as ‘Momma I’m a Big Girl Now’. But the familiar favourites were also revived stunningly by the cast: ‘I can hear the bells,’ which has always been a personal favourite of mine ,was enacted hilariously.
My one complaint about the production was the different ending. It felt as though everything was too well rounded off, almost to the point of becoming pantomime. All of the bad characters became good in the end. If Penny’s mother accepts her coloured boyfriend then does their relationship really have as powerful a meaning for the audience? Being in such a relationship means a whole lot of personal sacrifice; they have to fight for their love, and this reveals what many couples actually faced.
The other aspect of the ending that I wasn’t keen on was that in the stage show Tracey won the Miss Teenage Hairspray pageant. In the film Inez, Seaweed’s younger sister, wins. It feels like a major victory for Inez, who is finally recognised by the people of Baltimore for her talent and personality, rather than her skin colour. In the beginning, the production seemed to focus on Inez, drawing parallels between Tracey’s story and her own. This made the ending all the more disappointing when they didn’t follow through with this.
At times it felt uncomfortably like the show was teetering towards having a ‘white saviour’ complex, but there were many powerful moments, such as when Motormouth Maybelle sang. Her voice was indescribable and she literally took the audience’s breath away, giving an earth shattering rendition of ‘I know where I’ve been’.
The entire cast had fantastic voices; it was particularly impressive how Mrs Von Tussell kept singing whilst being caught and dropped! The girl playing Tracey Turnblad led the cast fantastically and Layton Williams (who readers may remember from CBBC’s show ‘School for Stars’) was fantastic as Seaweed, with all the best moves and a wonderful voice.
The quality of singing was phenomenal, the costumes were dazzling and the hair was outrageous. If you’re looking for a feel good show that will make you fall about with laughter and keep you singing along for weeks, then Hairspray is the show for you.