The last time I saw Hairspray in the West End was a sort of ‘now or never’ moment: after over 1,000 performances, the show was to close at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and I went along to the very last show. Some of the cast were in tears at curtain call, and the show evidently had gained a cult-like status amongst its fans – Brian Conley even quipped that some of them, who had turned up at the theatre night after night, might care to “get a life”. This time around, the die-hard fans are still there, and from my front row dress circle vantage point, the front stalls were alive at times with them performing elements of the choreography (Jerry Mitchell) with impressively accurate timing.
It’s not a small production but it does sometimes feel like it is, such is the stage space at the London Coliseum. It has the ‘wow’ factor nonetheless, and it is worth noting Motormouth Maybelle (Marisha Wallace) gained a standing ovation at the end of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ in the second half. Okay, so that kind of response may have to do with this being one of the first major West End productions that people will have seen since The Great Shutdown – a fellow theatregoer said afterwards that she couldn’t remember the last time she had smiled so much in one evening. In the end, though, it brought the house down for a reason: it was one of those stunning, jaw-dropping performances.
The larger ensemble all-singing, all-dancing, all-American numbers in particular have a cathartic release to them. Elsewhere, grown-ups Edna (Michael Ball) and Wilbur (Les Dennis) enjoy themselves in ‘You’re Timeless To Me’, causing raucous laughter in the audience with punchlines that seemed off-book – though I haven’t seen enough performances of the show over the years to confirm either way. Tracy (Lizzie Bea) is likeable and sublime, navigating a bold agenda for equal opportunities but also discerning enough to know when to take a step back. Bea’s stage presence is palpably positive.
Velma Von Tussle (Rita Simons) is the show’s antagonist, although she has the ‘love to hate’ kind of dastardliness about her. It’s her irritating daughter Amber (actually a very convincing Georgia Anderson) that tries to put a downer on anything and everything whenever she is not the centre of attention, even snapping at Velma at one point, biting the hand that feeds her. Seaweed (Ashley Samuels) is an astonishingly skilled dancer, and there’s an assured confidence in Michael Vinsen’s Corny Collins, the host of an early evening light entertainment show popular with Baltimore’s teenagers.
Elements of the storyline are a little far-fetched: taken literally, one could be forgiven for thinking that the show is trying to say that racial tensions were all resolved on ‘The Corny Collins Show’ in the 1960s, when modern history suggests there is still considerable work to do. Still, there are colourful costumes and huge hairdos on display. Coupled with fabulous flamboyancy from a talented and cheerful cast, Hairspray’s charm is sure to melt all but the very hardest of hearts. Yes, it’s hammy, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Don’t miss Michael Ball reprising his Olivier Award-winning performance as Edna Turnblad alongside a dynamite cast in the huge-hearted, smash-hit musical HAIRSPRAY!
From the original award-winning creative team of director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, and featuring the feel-great songs Good Morning Baltimore, You Can’t Stop the Beat and Big, Blonde and Beautiful, this inspirational, fun-loving musical sensation will arrive in the West End at just the right time to LIFT ALL OF OUR SPIRITS!
St Martin’s Lane London WC2N 4ES
Booking 22 June – 29 September 2021
Tuesday – 7.30 pm
Wednesday – 7.30 pm
Thursday – 3.00 pm and 7.30 pm
Friday – 7.30 pm
Saturday – 3.00 pm and 7.30 pm
Sunday – 4.00 pm