John Walters 1988 cult classic Hairspray follows the queen-sized Tracy Turnblad and her bubble gum toting bestie as they seek out a spot on the Corny Collins dance show. Merging multiple musical genres and throwing all of the colours on the wall, Paul Kerryson’s charming direction is a slick and glossy showpiece compared to its rougher original.
The 1960s brings a colourful cast of characters and with an open slot on Collins, the cool kids are looking for a dancer that is ahead of the trends. Fortunately for Corny, Tracy (Katie Brace) is looking to audition. Having borrowed a few moves from her black friends in Special Ed class, she hopes to integrate her new-found ethnic flavour into the shows all-white aesthetic. It seems the only thing slowing her progress is the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle who is fighting for her all-American daughter, Amber to take centre stage. But as she moves towards her dream to dance with her new friends on the show, Tracy finds her body-positive, progressive attitude may set her back.
After Walters’ film was transformed into a Tony and Emmy award-winning stage musical in 2002, it was remade into a film musical starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah and Zack Efron. While the original films gritty underdog has been cleaned up for a glittery musical remake, there are only a few alterations that separate the live performance from its film musical adaptation. The most notable difference is the superb casting. With Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle and Alex Bourne as Edna Turnblad, this remarkable musical keeps the vocals and momentum high throughout.
Here, the blonde baddies played by Rebecca Thornhill (Velma) and Jessica Croll (Amber) bring powerful performances and brilliant comedic timing as the double trouble divas. Murray delivers a solo of (The Legend Of) Miss Baltimore Crabs that allows her to show her full range of talent. Murray being lifted, thrown and twirled around the stage by male dancers while hitting all the high notes of the number is one of the best sequences of the production (and this production has too many hits to count). The show boasts a jukebox of memorable tunes, offers back-to-back hits performed by remarkable singers and is accompanied by an eight-piece live band.
The fabulous soundtrack is brought to life by Kerryson who brings a deconstructive set that breaks away at the corners of the Palace stage to reveal the teen's apartments and lifts its back to expose the Corny show. The band often remain housed away as there’s already plenty of action on stage, including choreography that allows its multitalented ensemble to flip around like members of Cirque du Soleil.
The productions B-movie tone is an entertaining departure from a typical theatre production as puppet rats’ scatter across Tracy’s feet and the hyped-up energy of its company kept a fast joke counter and excellent pace for the comedy. Even the more eye-popping moments of its original production have been positively edited out, removing the phrase “plastic little spastic” from the UK run. Nonetheless, Walters’s tone remains intact for this mesmerising musical adaptation, giving Hairspray the Musical bags of charm as it expands on its original source material perfectly.
Tickets are available through ATG link
You can also watch Hairspray Live on Amazon