Hairspray The Musical, Grand Opera House Belfast, November 1st, 2021

By Conor O’Neill

Brash, big, bold and unashamedly camp, Hairspray The Musical is fresh from its West End run and here to titillate and entertain those of all ages. And it comes with a social message under all the glam and dram.

The Grand opera House is heaving, hardly surprising since this musical has no fewer than eight Tony Awards under its belt. The plot is quite simple, yet perfectly formed. We follow Tracy Turnblad and her friends and enemies in early 1960s U S of A.

The civil rights movement is in full swing and racial tensions are mounting. But fear ye not, writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan while delivering a heavy story do so with their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

Tracy, played by Katie Brace, has two goals in life. One, to be famous and two, to win the heart of high school heartthrob Link Larkin. But there’s a few things in her way. The first being she’s a little over weight, the second being the institutional racism the seeps through to every aspect of her life.

She may not be as conventionally pretty as her arch nemesis Amber Von Tussle, but she can sing like an angel and dance like no one’s watching. Her chance of glory comes at a go in Baltimore’s teen talent show, but will she become Miss Teenage Hairspray 1962? Not if Amber’s mother Velma, and producer of the Corny Collins Show, has her way.

The stage moves from street to school to jail and TV studio. We meet Penny, Corny Collins, Seaweed, Prudy Pingleton and many more along the way. The best characters are undoubtedly the Turnblad family. Norman Pace plays Tracy’s father Wilbur, joke shop owner and the one backing his star struck daughter. Perhaps my, and by going on the reaction, the audience’s favourite character, is Tracy’s mother Edna. Alex Bourne, yes the mum is played by a scrumhalf of man who steals the hearts of all 1000 plus in the theatre.

The TurnBlad’s duet Timeless To Me is arguably the most rousing scene of the whole show. That’s not to say it’s not up against stiff competition. The score by Marc Shaiman and well crafted lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman offers many whistle-your-way-home signature tunes. I Can Hear The Bells, Welcome To The 60s, The Big Dollhouse and You Can’t Stop The Beat to name just a few of them.

Motormouth Records, or ‘race music’ to quote Penny’s mother Prudy, is owned by Motormouth Maybelle’s. Her solo number I Know Where I’ve Been is sure to knock your socks of. The record store is the hub of Tracy, Penny, Seaweed and pals hot spot. It’s from here white mixes with black and this little segment of segregated America makes tiny steps toward progress.

But not without incident.

All the good eggs end up in the clink while the bad ‘uns seem to have everything going just their way, the way it has been going since the US was formed. Of course this is a feel good story and even when things are looking shady we all know the truth will out.

As for the musicianship, well in the first act it’s something to be heard but not seen. A little bit of theatre magic in the second act and ‘wahey!’ half the orchestra are above the cast. As to be expected from a West End production not a note is out of step. From James Brown style funk to big rousing ballads and tons of soul are the key to the night.

Big hair, big tunes, big dance numbers – hats off to director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.

Great night out. Lap it up while you can.

Hairspray The Musical runs up to and including Saturday November 6th with matinees at 230 on Thursday and Saturday.

For booking details visit http://www.goh.co.uk or call the box office on 02890 241919

ENDS

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