Friday, 18 March 2016

REVIEW: Hairspray at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

As I took my seat in the Royal Circle, I struggled to see an empty chair anywhere at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. Lights everywhere were rolling through the colour spectrum, illuminating eager faces around the auditorium in the build up to the start of the show. ‘Hairspray’ is one of the most popular musicals of all time, and the excitement in the audience was palpable.

‘Hairspray’ is the heart-warming story of Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and even bigger dreams in 1960’s Baltimore. Desperately seeking fame, Tracy sets out to become one of ‘the nicest kids in town’ and dance her way into everyone’s hearts on the hit National TV show ‘The Corny Collins Show’. Tracy’s audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for super-stardom, equality and romance along the way!

As the curtain rose, it quickly became apparent that the orchestra were not at the front of the stalls as you might expect. Instead they were elevated above the stage as an integrated part of ‘The Corny Collins Show’ line-up. The orchestra were on fire all evening and added a real sparkle to the show. Furthermore, the costumes, particularly for the larger group numbers were every inch as glitzy and glamorous as you could hope for: stunning!

It pains me to say that despite all its positives, this is a production of two dramatically different halves. Act I was distinctly average. It felt quite amateur; the sets were wobbly and looked un-finished, and though everyone was dancing well, the energy was flat, as, sadly, was much of the singing. The cast looked tired – however, the twenty minute interval worked absolute wonders, because the second act was mind-blowingly good.

I am, however, left questioning the direction of this show. Amongst the younger cast members in particular, both lead and ensemble, the direction given was clearly to over-act to their hearts’ content. It was like watching a group of fidgety jumping beans, each desperately attempting to draw the attention to themselves at all times. It was like not one cast member played an authentic character – just an over-dramatised version of what their characters could have been. I understand this is the nature of the show, especially when the characters are featured on ‘The Corny Collins Show’, but surely the line should be drawn somewhere? It was all too much and gave me a bit of a headache…

The good news is, regardless of its flaws, this show does have momentous moments.

Brenda Edwards as ‘Motormouth Maybelle’ is, without a shadow of a doubt, the star of this show and is a force to be reckoned with. Her two big numbers “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been” blew the roof off the theatre. The latter was a truly remarkable, emotive and passionate performance which sent goosebumps down my spine and brought tears to my eyes. She was sensational and if I was rating this show on her performance alone, it would earn 5-stars.

As Tracy Turnblad, Freya Sutton has some excellent moments. Her physicality is wonderful, as was her comedic timing. Her efforts in ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ were her best of the evening – it’s just a shame we had to wait over 2 hours to get there! Sutton’s most warming moments come as she lusts after teen heart-throb Link Larkin, played by Ashley Gilmour. Whilst there was good chemistry between the two, it was their solo performances which showed off their talents the best. Gilmour delivered a swoon-worthy version of ‘It Takes Two’ which showed off his Elvis Presley-like dance moves and charm. I could have listened to him sing all evening.

One of the crowd favourite performances of the night came from Matt Rixon and Peter Duncan as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, respectively. ‘You’re Timeless To Me’ is a wonderfully
written song which the pair performed perfectly. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it.

Overall. this show is a mixed bag; plenty of promising up-and-coming talents in the cast, however, how a company can perform such starkly different halves, I’m unsure! Act II had all the “wow” factor one could hope for, with epic dance sequences, fantastic lighting, and all the showbiz pizzazz you’d expect to see in a musical like ‘Hairspray’, but sadly, Act I left me unsatisfied.

This production pays great tribute to the legendary Broadway original, so if you love the stage musical, this should float your boat, but, this production does needs refining, particularly Act I, so, just be patient, and you’ll get to the good stuff eventually.

Review by Harriet Langdown 


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