The smash-hit musical Hairspray returns to the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) this week as part of its UK 2017 tour and it is guaranteed to lift and warm the spirits of all folks – young and old. It is the perfect medicine to cheer you up if you’re already fed up of the wet and chilly school holidays.
Set in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962, Hairspray is an American musical about a dance-loving, plump teenager Tracy Turnblad (Rebecca Mendoza). Turnblad becomes an overnight sensation after winning an audition to appear on ‘The Corny Collins Show’, a local TV dance show. This is based on the real televised event in 1963 of Baltimore’s first mixed race ‘dance in’ of The Buddy Deane Show.
The musical Hairspray is based on the 1988 film by John Waters (starring Rikki Lake and Divine). The stage hit musical has been on stage for well over a decade, having made its first appearance on Broadway in 2002 and the West End in 2007; it also won eight Tony Awards in 2003.
Another film version came out in 2007 (starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Queen Latifah). Many of you will already know the songs, ‘Welcome to the 60s’ and the very catchy ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’.
The plot of Hairspray covers the growing pains of an American teenager who has never really fitted in at school and is desperately trying to find her place in the world. It is during this teenage phase that she falls in love with heartthrob Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks), a star on the Corny Collins Show.
Link, with the help of Turnblad, soon learns that there is more to a person than just one’s appearance or body image. In addressing the issue of social exclusion, the plot takes an important and influential step further by including – at its core – the need for racial integration, not segregation and discrimination, forms of which were still legal until 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was forced through U.S. Congress by President Johnson.
Hairspray is Mendoza’s first professional stage role, having only just graduated this July from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. Despite her inexperience ‘professionally’, she certainly does not disappoint and carries her lead role as well as she does her ‘big hair’.
From the show’s first song, ‘Good Morning Baltimore’, which is largely a solo piece for Mendoza, you instantly know that she has the talent and confidence to deliver a very expressive, bubbly and comical performance throughout the show.
After the first song, the fast and lively pace of the show doesn’t falter – each act is full of fun, explosive colours, 60s style songs and rhythm and dancing. Its finale (‘You can’t stop the Beat’) is one of the best catchy and colourful numbers of any stage musical produced since the Millennium.
Vocally, top credit must go to Brenda Edwards, who you may remember from X Factor back in 2005. She has also appeared in several stage shows including as the acclaimed Mama Morton in Chicago and Nettie Fowler in Carousel.
Playing the well suited Hairspray character Motormouth Maybelle, Edwards delivers the performance of the night with a flawless and explosive vocal of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, and sings with true passion the line ‘There’s a road we’ve been travellin’/Lost so many on the way’.
Matt Rixon, the show’s male lead who plays Tracy’s mother Edna, is also superb. He has wonderful comic timing and expressive facial expressions, which is not surprising given his vast stage/ pantomime experience and television credits.
Wilbur Turnblad, played by Norman Pace, perhaps best known as half of the comedy duo, Hale and Pace, has also become an accomplished actor and singer in his own right. While each have solo opportunities to shine in this show, it is Rixon and Pace’s pantomime style performance of ‘You’re timeless to Me’ that is the most comical and entertaining, and will put a smile on anyone’s face.
Layton Williams, who plays Seaweed, son of Motormouth Maybelle, and is perhaps best known for his role as Stephen in Bad Education (the series and feature film), also deserves a mention as his acting, dancing and singing abilities are second to none.
During the finale all the main cast are given a solo line or two to sing, which gives credit to the real team performance of the show. The strength of the entire cast is certainly a key factor to the show’s success and appeal.
In short, Hairspray delivers plenty of bounce, fun, warmth and 60s ‘downtown’ rhythm and blues. Any children going to see it will be singing and dancing well after the show has finished, and they’ll also be inspired by a very important message around equality, tolerance and integration. For children of all ages, young and old, it is a definite must see.
What do others say about Hairspray?
‘As light and bouncy as a bubble gum’, The Observer
‘A near perfect balance of book and music, celebrating mankind’s capacity for change and acceptance’, The Stage – Paul Vale
‘A brand new production of Hairspray that has all the energy and buzz you would expect from this bouncy Broadway musical’ What’s on Stage – Kieran Johnson
Hairspray is showing in The Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 26th August. For more information visit: www.wmc.org.uk
Tickets are priced £14.50 – £49. Concessions are available, depending on allocations and availability.
Children guidance: 5 years+ (no under 2s)
(All pictures provided courtesy of The Wales Millennium Centre)