From the dazzling outfits to the flamboyant characters, everything in Hairspray is saturated with glitz and glamour. Yet, it is not just a visual spectacle. Its tunes, which infuse rock’n’roll rhythms and beautiful gospel harmonies, are topped with a healthy handful of poptastic cheese. It’s a show-stopping production, and really, it’s no wonder this West End and Broadway production, currently stopping off at the New Theatre in Cardiff, has broken box office records. Hairspray really is a treat for the whole family.
Hairspray follows the life of Tracy Turnblad, a plump and optimistic teen who yearns to reach her dreams of singing and dancing on TV. After gaining a role on the Corny Collins Show, Tracy becomes an overnight celebrity and finds herself leading a rebellion against racism and inequality.
Bucketloads of hilarious anecdotes and exaggerated mannerisms are set against the weighty subject matter of racism – likewise body issues, particular fatphobia – yet the bold and unapologetic treatment of these subjects is refreshing, its relevancy in today’s society indisputable. A foreword from producer, Mark Goucher, sets the tone for the production: “Please sit back and enjoy this show, but remember in life, just to sit still would be a crime.”
A particularly noteworthy moment comes in Brenda Edwards’ astonishing performance of the gospel power anthem I Know Where I’ve Been. Edwards, who plays Motormouth Maybelle, leads an anti-racism protest through the streets of Baltimore whilst singing in memory of all those who have lost their lives battling to end racial inequality. The song is a standout moment of seriousness in an otherwise uplifting musical, and Edwards’ powerful and emotive delivery, combined with her piercing, rich tone, earned her the loudest applause of the evening.
The skill and precision of the cast’s vocal technique and control cannot be overlooked. Hard melodies were combined with quick dancing, but each excellent cast member performed with an effortless air. Rebecca Thornhill, the unpleasant Velma Von Tussle, displayed jaw-dropping control and skill, drawing sharp intakes of breath from several audience members as she was flipped upside down and thrown through the air, all without wavering from the note she was singing!
Hairspray is the perfect musical to get you feeling warm and uplifted on a cold February evening. If you haven’t seen this smash-hit musical before, then clear your diary and head down to the New Theatre this week for a feel-good time.
New Theatre, Cardiff, Mon 14 Feb
Hairspray is at the New Theatre until Sat 19 Feb. Tickets: £22-£52. Info: here
words NAOMI GRIFFITHS
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