Wednesday, 28 July 2021

REVIEW: Hairspray at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre

The audiences at The Mayflower Southampton love a musical and you could feel the warmth and excitement in the auditorium this week as Hairspray arrived on its UK tour that runs until April 2022. It is slightly curious to find another production at the Coliseum in London with Michael Ball and Les Dennis in the roles of Edna and Wilbur opening around the same time with plenty of publicity for Ball returning to a role he clearly loves. Hopefully, both shows will benefit from the publicity and serve different audiences, but it is a testament to the quality of the musical written by O’Donnell, Meehan, Shaiman and Wittman that producers believe it can sell so many tickets and its upbeat message of hope and change will resonate as audiences return post-pandemic.

The difference between the two shows, apart from the lead casting, is the staging of the show with the touring show necessarily stripped back for ease of its weekly move but the result is a show that at times feels more like a staged concert than a full-blown Musical Theatre. In the TV studio scenes, the usual cameras have been dispensed with and we are left with an open stage with the band behind on a raised platform. Other scenes are backed by black cloth although when they do project scenes on backcloth, they are effective especially in “Welcome to the sixties” where the record discs images are gradually replaced by Black and White Images from the Civil Rights Movement at the time. The two small downstage trucks are regularly used for interior scenes such a the Turnblad sitting room or Wilbur’s joke shop but for those seated in the side aisles, it is less than perfect staging.

However, the Southampton audience is there for the music and the message of hope for racial integration and equality, and they are well served by the two female stars. Brenda Edwards, the 2005 X-Factor semi-finalist, is wonderful as Motormouth Maybelle. Her powerful vocals stop the show in the song that closes the 1st Act “Big, Blond and Beautiful” and in the wonderful “I know where I’ve been” in the second Act. She is matched with the youthful energy of Katie Bourne, making her professional debut as Tracy Turnblad, the young girl who dreams of racial integration. She leads the cast well in the three best-known songs of the show “Good Morning Baltimore”, which opens the show, “I can hear the bells” and the upbeat celebration of “You can’t stop the beat”.

Alex Bourne who has plenty of West End musical experience plays a very butch Edna, Tracey’s Mum and is partnered (during the 2021 leg of the tour) by Norman Pace as Wilbur. The audience loved their rehearsed corpsing during their romantic duo “Timeless to me” and they look like they are enjoying hamming it up. Richard Meek is the host of the TV show with Ross Clifton as the heartthrob Link Larkin. However, the two most charming performances are from Charlotte St Croix as Inez and Akeem Hyman as Seaweed who we natural warm to. They are well supported by a large cast including the excellent Dynamites recreating the Motown sound of the sixties.

This is a very good touring production, with a youthful energetic cast who deliver the songs and dance routines with finesse and provide a celebration of both the return of musical theatre and the essential drive for racial equality. It makes a fun uplifting and enjoyable evening out that so many of us have been missing and I urge you to support their endeavour.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row P | Price of Ticket: £40
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