From the roaring standing ovation to the audience hum of “You can’t stop the beat” following us into the street, it’s abundantly clear the opening night of Hairspray at the Palace Theatre was a resounding success.
After more than 30 years on the road this musical shows no signs of tiring. And under director, Paul Kerryson, the vibrant cast take the show to even bigger heights through their effortless singing (with Ben Atkinson as Musical Director) and perfect choreography (by Drew McOnie) which was complemented by great use of lighting by Philip Gladwell to create a technicolour stage constantly changing to fit the song and scenes.
You’d never guess Katie Brace makes her professional debut as Tracy Turnblad. She shines on stage, bringing all the comedy and talent needed for a big role such as hers. In particular, her performances of ‘Welcome to the 60s’ and ‘Without love’ showcase her strong singing voice and unstoppable energy.
Tracy is a 1960s schoolgirl who dreams of making it big in her town of Baltimore and dances her way into a role on The Corny Collins show with her long-time crush Link Larkin (played by Ross Clifton) but ends up making a stand to end racial segregation on TV – a plot point which strikes a chord but also sadly reminds us that after all this time there is still work to be done when it comes to fighting racism. Although the severity of this deeper storyline gets a little lost within all the dancing, the true message manages to shine through – unity is the solution.
Alex Bourne and Norman Pace as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad make a dynamic duo with a standout moment being their duet, ‘You’re Timeless to Me’, full of heartfelt singing and hilarious one-liners which had the audience cheering well before the song even ended.
Akeem Ellis-Hyman is the perfect Seaweed showing off incredible dance skills in his song ‘Run and Tell That’ and Rebecca Jayne Davis gives a squeaky but convincing portrayal of Tracy’s best friend Penny, whose every move is controlled by her religious and racist mother culminating in her tying Penny to her bed as punishment (and yes, it does get a little ridiculous by this point). Rebecca Thornhill makes for an ideal villain as Velma Von Tussle with wince-worthy remarks and a great performance of ‘Miss Baltimore Crabs’ supported by the brilliant ensemble cast.
Brenda Edwards lives up to every expectation with her incredible portrayal of Motormouth Maybelle, performing a stunning rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’; the standout song of the night with its poignant and relevant lyrics.
The set is rather simplistic and lacklustre unfortunately and this made the transitioning of scenes a little jumbled and harder to follow. But the cast’s energy and outstanding choreography more than made up for this, especially in the final performance of its best-known song ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ which wraps the show up perfectly and ends it on such a high.
This production is fabulous and heart-warming, if a little unrealistic, and every cast member truly brought their all to the stage and it showed. Full of such outstanding performances, it guarantees an evening of pure fun and enjoyment for all the family.
Hairspray UK Tour is at The Palace Theatre, Manchester from 25-30 Oct and touring until April 2022.
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