hairspray18 cast


Wolverhampton Grand


This is the sort of show to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter’s night with Siberian snow swirling around the streets outside.

It’s a feel-good musical, not too taxing, gently delivering its message of integration and racial harmony. 

Set in 1962 in Baltimore at a time when the USA, especially in the south, was two nations, with white only schools and racial segregation in everything from restaurants and lunch counters to public transport

The plot might seem a bit far fetched to a modern audience, centred, as it is, around The Corny Collins Show, a nightly dance and pop music TV programme which was a must watch for Baltimore teens. It is a show with a policy of whites only dancers -except for the once a month Negro day, when everyone on show was black with not a white face in sight.

Yet the tale, including the invasion of a live broadcast on a white day by black and white teenagers demanding integration is based on fact and The Buddy Deane Show, which was a Baltimore institution.

Based on the 1988 John Waters film the musical follows the ample figure of Tracy Turnblad as she auditions for a part as a dancer on The Corny Collins Show and becomes not only an overnight star but a teenage civil rights leader to boot. The well upholstered Tracy also adds a message that its not what people look like, it's what they are that matters.

Rebecca Mendoza made her professional debut in this show and has made herself at home, and a name for herself, as Tracy with a bubbly personality and a fine voice while Matt Rixon towers above . . . and around her as her mother Edna. Edna is a big lady – and why a man?

Velma and amber

Aimee Moore as the peevish Amber and Gina Murray as the bigoted Velma

Waters had used the drag artist Divine in his films since the 1960s and had planned to cast him as both Edna and Tracy in the film, a plan, wisely, scuppered by the producers, leaving Devine as Edna in the camp cult film. And a man in drag in the part has become the tradition.

Rixon never camps it up though, this is more dame than drag and you are never in doubt that this is a bloke in a frock – and a portable sauna of padding.

His . . . her foil is Graham MacDuff as husband Wilbur, supportive, inventive and proprietor of a joke shop, the first - and only - shop, in a world wide chain. Their duet of You’re Timeless to me has a charm all of its own.

Tracy’s best friend is Penny, a nerdy, needy teen in glasses played by Annalise Liard-Bailey, who looks about 12 and in need of a good meal – so you just know, Hollywood-like, she is going to turn out to be a bit of a stunner with her hair down and glasses off when Tracy’s integrated world arrives. And so it proves with Annalise also proving to be a fair old dancer and singer as well when the dorky duckling become a swan.

Layton Williams gives us a likeable Seaweed who turns out to be Penny’s love interest. That boy can dance, having toured with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures for both Lord of the Flies and The Car Man - and he does a nice line in back flips – loads of 'em.

While Tracy’ love interest centres on Baltimore’s answer to Elvis, Link Larkin, played by Edward Chitticks. The pair manage a delightful duet with Without Love with Penny and Seaweed joining in a different location on the flexible set from Takis.

But the big number is the civil rights anthem I know Where I’ve Been sung by Motormouth Maybelle who runs the record shop which is the focus for the black kids on the wrong side of town.

Brenda Edwards’ has come a long way since her semi-final appearance in the 2005 X-factor, and she puts some real wellie into the song as Maybelle.

If we have goodies we have to have some baddies led by the bigoted, racist and snobbish Velma Von Tussle, the producer of the Corny Collins show, played by Gina Murray, who never quite comes over as nasty enough to be completely hated, while her daughter Amber, played by Aimee Moore, probably has bimbo as an aspiration.

As you can guess, we are not really meant to like them, while giving good support with a nice line in put downs, is Corny Collins played by Jon Tsouras.

Prim, proper and protecting Penny from those "people of colour" is her mother Prudy, played by Tracey Penn who also weighs in as the politically incorrect gym teacher and the no nonsense prison matron.

James Revel is another multi-tasker as Mr. Pinky, owner of Mr. Pinky's Hefty Hideaway, who gives Tracy and Edna a makeover; the principal of Tracy's high school handing her her daily detentions and Mr. Harriman F. Spritzer, the President of Ultra Clutch, the hairspray, and sponsors of Corny's show.

The set is minimal but effective with a full wall video screen which helps set scenes, the screen dropping in front of the  excellent eight piece band who have been elevated out of the pit and on to a shelf at the rear of the stage playing songs with music and lyrics from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is evocative of the times, 1960’s style ballad and dance numbers and MOR rhythm and blues. While Drew McOnie has given us some lively choreography.

The musical might be 16 years old but this new production has tweaked it a little here and there with the result it is as fresh and warm hearted as ever, keeping the cold at bay to 03-03-18

Roger Clarke


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