Tuesday, 8 February 2022

REVIEW: Hairspray at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

With this tour and last summer’s residency of a different production at the London Coliseum, it seems we’re never far away from a squirt of Hairspray. The story concerns Tracy Turnblad’s desire to become a star on the local TV dance show in her home town of Baltimore in 1962 and how she encounters and deals with racism and body shaming along the way. The serious underlying issues combine with great tunes and a frothy, comic topping to make this an enduring classic. 

If you’ve not seen it before you’ll find Marc Shaiman’s tunes are instantly appealing and energetically delivered by the on-set band. By the way, the sound was great. Loud but not over-bearing and great balance between vocals and band, which sounds obvious not all shows get this right. 

If you’re familiar with the show, either from the film or previous productions, you are in for a real treat. I saw the original London production with Michael Ball and its Coliseum incarnation (where it was a little lost in that cavernous space) and can honestly say this is hands down the best ever. The staging is simple, which puts the focus on the performances. And this works brilliantly because the cast are all so tightly knit and giving their all at all times. Just a glance around the stage during any number and you’ll see everyone is right in character and right in the moment. 

As is traditional with this show, the role of Tracy Turnblad is taken by a newcomer, in this case, Katie Brace is making her professional debut. Other Tracy’s I’ve seen have been good dancers and singers. Brace is too, but she also brings a whole other dimension to her performance, showing Tracy to be the free thinker and breath of fresh air she’s described as in the script. And she’s even brilliantly entertaining when she’s just watching the dance show on TV or standing to one side during heartthrob Link Larkin’s big number. She responded brilliantly to a technical hitch that temporarily stopped the show.

Alex Bourne plays Tracy’s mother, an unashamedly butch Edna who towers over her doting husband and Tracy’s father Wilbur, played by Norman Pace. The required chemistry between the two is there and they make a convincing if unconventional couple. Playing the baddie is Rebecca Thornhill as the producer the of TV dance show, Velma Von Tussle. She’s snappy and viscous with some sinewy and acrobatic dance moves into the bargain. Rebecca Jayne-Davies is Tracy’s slightly dim sidekick Penny. She has a much better part than the film version and really makes the most of it. Her partner Seaweed is played by Reece Richards who looks so right and dances so well. He could, though, do with a little more power in some of the vocals. First-class in supporting roles we have Richard Meek as TV host Corny Collins and Ross Clifton as Link Larkin. 

Finally, making her entrance at the end of Act One is Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, host of the dance show’s once a month ‘Negro day’. She has a great stage presence and delivers two outstanding bring-the-house-down numbers, full-on, front and centre. You could watch her all night.

Director Paul Kerryson has brought us a polished and shining version of this already great show and it really is a must-see.

Review by John Charles 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls K35 | Price of ticket: £45 plus £3 booking fee
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