Playing this week at the Churchill Theatre Bromley is feel-good musical ‘Hairspray’, based on the 1988 John Waters film. This charming pastiche of 1960s America is colourful, energetic and bursting with good heart.
The story follows young, overweight but eternally optimistic high school student Tracy Turnblad (Katie Brace), who is bursting with enthusiasm for the cool new sounds and styles of the Sixties, even down to her beehive hair style. Desperate to be on her favourite local television programme, The Corny Collins Show, she busts some dance moves learned from her stylish new black friend Seaweed (Reece Richards) and wows the host. She even gets to dance with teen heart-throb Link Larkin (Ross Clifton) and wins a sponsorship deal that impresses her parents. But something is rotten at the heart of her new showbiz world. Producer Velma Von Tussle (Rebecca Thornhill) is a racist who seeks to undermine Tracy and her friends at every turn. Undeterred, Tracy vows to take on the authorities and use her charm and talents to stand up for what she knows to be right.
‘Hairspray’ impresses with its breathless energy, witty one-liners and sound moral message. This production succeeds in all of the essential elements and ably conveys the necessary colour and vitality that brings a schoolgirl’s idealistic world so vividly to life on the stage.
The casting is perfect. Director Paul Kerryson brings out the best in several highly enjoyable double-acts. Rebecca Jayne-Davies and Reece Richards are adorable as young couple Penny and Seaweed, whereas glamorous-yet-bigoted Velma and Amber Von Tussle (Rebecca Thornhill and Jessica Croll) are entirely believable as the ghastly mother and daughter. The biggest laughs of the evening are won by Tracy’s parents, Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. Alex Bourne, who towers over Norman Pace, is paired with him to comic perfection. Their rendition of ‘You’re Timeless to Me’ is hilarious, and it took some time for the audience to recover from hysterics!
There are individual performances of note too. Brenda Edwards may be singled out for her powerful singing voice and stage presence as Motormouth Maybelle. The leads Katie Brace and Ross Clifton enjoy a great rapport and provide the production with sustained levels of excitement and innocence.
Audiences will recognise one or two songs. The opening number, ‘Good Morning Baltimore’, sung by Tracy, suitably establishes the world of the story. ‘Run and Tell That’, which takes place at Motormouth Maybelle’s record shop, is an excellent set piece, and the final song, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ is perhaps the best of all. It’s certainly an earworm – the melody will rattle through your mind as you leave the auditorium and for hours afterwards!
There are one or two moments in the first act where the energy dips, and not all of the musical numbers are as strong as the standouts. It’s also wise not to study the plot too hard. But ‘Hairspray’ isn’t aiming at plausibility or psychological realism. It sweeps its audience along with its confidently told moral message and leaves everyone with a warm glow after a thoroughly-earned walk down. There’s no preaching, just an enjoyable absence of cynicism and a representation of all that was great about the Sixties. Even the ostensible villains of the piece aren’t entirely irredeemable, so irrepressibly endearing is Tracy’s crusade. In this production, act two was pretty much flawless, and the exuberant energy held until the final curtain call. Little wonder that the audience loved it so much.
This production of ‘Hairspray’, carried off by an excellent cast, is great family fun and is sure to leave you wanting more. If you’ve been starved of theatrical entertainment in recent years, then this is a great one to lure you back in!
Cast: Alex Bourne, Brenda Edwards, Norman Pace, Rebecca Thornhill, Katie Brace, Richard Meek, Reece Richards, Ross Clifton, Jessica Croll, Rebecca Jayne-Davies Director: Paul Kerryson Writer: Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan, Mark Shaiman, Scott Wittman Theatre: Churchill Theatre, Bromley Running time: 150 mins Dates: Monday 7th to Saturday 12th February 2022 Book now