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REVIEW: Hairspray at Birmingham Hippodrome
Culture critic Louisa Bebb reviews a feel-good touring production of hit musical Hairspray, a tale of love, self-belief and the fight against segregation
It’s not hard to see why Hairspray has become a household favourite in recent times. Due to road closures and taxi issues, we had to run 3 miles through Birmingham in order to make it to the Hippodrome Theatre in time. It was incredibly worth the effort – and that’s something I never thought I’d say about exercise.
This is the musical’s fourth UK tour, and with the knowledge that the original West End production was awarded a record-breaking eleven Laurence Olivier awards, it’s fair to say expectations were high.
“A heart-warming tale about acceptance, love and achieving your dreams
A heart-warming tale about acceptance, love and achieving your dreams, Hairspray follows the story of Tracy Turnblad from Baltimore, played by Rebecca Mendoza. It’s hard to believe that this production is Mendoza’s debut; she played the character with the confidence and conviction of a seasoned professional, and provided exquisite vocals to match.
The opening number of 'Good Morning Baltimore' truly provided a standard for this fast passed and exciting show. The staging was exceptional throughout. The stage never felt too busy but, thanks to a clever use of an animated backdrop, always came across as bustling and vibrant when the scene called for such an atmosphere.
With the support of her best friend Penny, who was played brilliantly by Annalise Liard-Bailey, Tracy decides to audition as a dancer for her favourite TV programme, The Corny Collins Show. At the audition, however, Tracy is ridiculed about her weight by the producer Velma Von Tussle and her fame-hungry daughter Amber. The on-stage chemistry between Gina Murray and Aimee Moore, who played Velma and Amber respectively, really brought these villains to life. The pair were somewhat of a dynamic duo, instantly becoming characters you love to hate.
Cast and Ensemble of Hairspray, including Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Mabel), Rebecca Mendoza (Tracy Turnblad), Edward Chitticks (Link Larkin) and Layton Williams (Seaweed).
It’s here that Tracy meets heartthrob Link Larkin, played by Edward Chitticks. With previous credits including stripper Eddie in the smash hit musical Mamma Mia, there was no doubt that Chitticks would know how to get hearts racing.
The cast's performance of 'Welcome to the 60’s' is sure to make you want to jump in a time machine and check it out for yourself. The colourful costumes ensured the stage looked fun and exciting, bringing both the song, and the decade, to life. There was not a moment within the entire show where any member of the ensemble came out of character, consequently making their individual performances all the more believable.
But it was the hilariously adorable relationship between Edna and Wilbur Turnblad which stole both the show and the hearts of the audience. Matt Rixon was truly perfect as Edna. His natural stage presence ensured that Edna was the star of every scene she appeared in, and the balance between comedy and emotion exhibited by Rixon was perfect. Norman Pace, who has been one half of the comedy duo Hale and Pace since 1986, channelled his vast experience in order to ensure Wilbur was just as entertaining and loveable. Their performance of 'You’re Timeless To Me' in the second act really brought the house down and left the audience in its entirety grinning from ear to ear.
The fourth wall was broken throughout, and my only criticism of the direction would be that characters entering the stage at the front interacted with the audience. Although this presumably worked well for those with seats near the stage, it appeared somewhat messy to those further back as it was difficult to understand what exactly was going on.
“You Can’t Stop the Beat is an explosion of colour, excitement and unbelievable vocals
Above all else, Hairspray documents the fight to end segregation as Tracy fights to allow access to all to dance together on television, as well as push for wider equality. The final song of 'You Can’t Stop the Beat' is an explosion of colour, excitement and unbelievable vocals which celebrates the coming together of one and all. It doesn’t matter if you’re big, small, black or white; anyone can dance!
The performance was brought to a close with a reprise of 'You Can’t Stop the Beat' and an invitation from Tracy Turnblad herself. “Come on, Birmingham” she said; we didn’t need to be asked twice.
Hairspray plays at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 14th of October, before continuing on its tour. More information can be found here.