WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Saturday 18 September 2021, runs to 29 September 2021
RUNTIME: 150 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
We loved John Waters‘ 1988 film on which this musical is based but it is a show which has surpassed its origins and there is a moment tonight when rising star Marisha Wallace sings I Know Where I’ve Been that brings the house down.
- Read on for reasons including why Michael Ball’s number with Les Dennis reminded of Morecambe and Wise at their best
Hairspray is set in Baltimore in 1962 and is the story of TV’s The Corny Collins’ Show which is auditioning for new dancers and our heroine, Tracy Turnblad, unhappy at the segregation of white and black acts on the show, decides to audition.
We 1st saw the musical of Hairspray on its West End debut at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2008 when it won 4 Oliviers including 1 for Michael Ball for Best Actor In A Musical and Ball returns for this production 13 years later in drag in the same role as Tracy’s mum, Edna.
Each year this readers of this site awards monstas in categories including Best Performance Of A Song which we introduced because some times there’s 1 song in a musical where everything just works perfectly. There are several in this production and when Wallace’s Motormouth Maybelle stops the show with I Know Where I’ve Been which sums up the racial struggle at the heart of this musical it exemplifies just why we did so.
We were originally supposed to see this show in April 2020 but it has been postponed many times because of Covid and Paul Merton was 1st cast as Tracy’s father. Watching the duet between Les Dennis who is now in the role with Ball we can see why Merton was originally cast because at the very least he must be taller than Dennis who appears dwarfed by Ball in heels.
For us though, this only added to the hilarity of their duet Your Timeless To Me with both of them apparently ad-libbing and Dennis desperately trying to stop himself from laughing as Ball through some unexpectedly funny innuendo into the mix.
We’re not massive Ball (Les Miserables – The Staged Concert, Gielgud Theatre) fans but we love how he slots into this production without ever tipping it over the edge in a part which in the wrong hands could unbalance the piece.
Understudy Natalie Woods is in the Tracy role and you’d never know she wasn’t the original choice for the part. We hadn’t realised former EastEnders’ actress Simons would be playing baddie TV producer Velma Von Tussle and we hadn’t expected her singing to be so good.
Jonny Amies was well cast as love interest Link Larkin and Ashley Samuels and Kimani Arthur in minor roles also impressed.
In a week when we also saw the underwhelming film-to-musical transfer of Back To The Future we’re reminded that the most successful need to bring something new to the table and have a laser focus on what made the movie work and apply this to creating magical songs to amplify that.
Hairspray was forward looking when it arrived in film form in the 80s, was electrified by its 00s musical incarnation and remains so today as Wallace reminds us tonight. Not even Covid could stop the beat of this amazing musical.