A heady mix of lacquer and success

In the Pink: Brian Conley as Edna Turnblad setting the stage alight

Hairspray

Wolverhampton Grand

*****

AUDIENCES are a pretty good guide to any show and when you get a spontaneous standing ovation before the final song has even finished it is a safe bet to say you are on a winner.

Hairspray is a high octane musical and although it cannot boast any songs which have become standards it does capture the sounds of the early 60s with its nods to Motown, pop and Elvis ballads.

The basic tale is about a plump teenager, Tracy Turnblad, played with aplomb by Laurie Scarth in her first leading role who dreams of being on a local teenage TV programme. the Corny Collins Show.

When an audition is announced for the show our Trace manages to to dance her way into the cast but dances her way at the same time on to the wrong side of her teachers and finds herself placed in special education at her High School with a group of . . . oh no, not . . . black people!

From there it is only a couple of song and dance numbers before she is a civil rights campaigner battling for integration.

Behind her are her mum and dad, Edna, played by the larger than life, brilliant Brian Conley with the perfect foil in Les Dennis as Wilbur. Is it just me or is the terrific Les Dennis slowly morphing into Mickey Rooney in his heyday?

Edna and Wilbur's duet Timeless to Me was one of the highlight of the show as traditional British panto met the American glitz of Broadway.

Tracy (Laurie Scarth) and Link ( Liam Doyle) hoofing their way to the finale

The show had plenty of good support from Wayne Robinson as Seaweed, the leader of the black teenagers, Tracy's best friend, the nerdy Penny, (Emma Dukes) and the  racist producer of the local TV show Velma Von Tussle, (Gillian Kirkpatrick).

Velma's daughter Amber, (Clare Halse) is suitably obnoxious while Danny Bayne shows nice touches as Corny Collins himself.

Miss Halse hams it up beautifully and manages to provide the baddy Amber with an impressive scream and a voice that could probably crack an anvil. 

To keep teen interest alive Liam Doyle provided the puppy love rivalry between Tracy and Amber as local heartthrob Link Larkin - Baltimore's own Elvis.

When it comes to voices though Sandra Marvin, as owner of the black record shop, Motormouth Maybelle, left everyone else as as also rans. A big lady with an even bigger voice. Her bittersweet solo about the years of battling for equality, I Know Where I've Been, stretches the walls and lifts the roof. Gospel with a capital G.

FEEL THE ANGUISH

The segregation and colour bar of the US of the 60s is dealt with in a rather superficial, sugary way until that point and again afterwards but Marvin puts real soul into the song and for a moment you can feel the anguish of being black in the USA of the 60s. 

As musicals go though this is all action with lively song and dance numbers that will keep feet tapping from beginning to end, a simple story and a happy finale. What more could you ask for. It's a winner. To 19-06-10

Roger Clarke

 

The show is based on a 1988 John Waters film which explains why Edna is a man in drag.  Waters worked regularly with American drag artist Divine who was part of his regular group of actors known as the Dreamlanders.

So when it came to making Hairspray it was natural to find a part for Divine, hence the tradition of Edna in drag was born. Divine, incidentally, died in his sleep from an enlarged heart at the age of 42 a week after the film opened.

The show as a musical opened on Broadway in 2002 and in Britain in 2007 and deals with issues which, for anyone in the audience under 60, are from a different world. The age of Martin Luther King's dream, Rosa Parks, JFK, Joan Baez, Pete Seager; a time when the USA was two nations, white and black in everything from buses and restaurants to schools, theatres and motels.

The film, and musical are based on real events and a real show, the Buddy Deane Show which ran in Baltimore for seven years up to 1964. The show did not allow black and white teenagers to be seen dancing together so the teenage dancers were all white except every other Friday when they were all black and never the twain shall meet. The show waseventually  taken off the air because the station wouldn't integrate black and white dancers.

 

A second spray

* * * * *

BIG is beautiful in this musical which tells the story of how chubby Tracy Turnblad sets out to prove that size isn't everything when it comes to fulfilling a dream and making it on TV.

Laurie Scarth is a joy as the bubbly teenager who, in the age of giant hairstyles and gallons of spray, uses her natural talent to clinch a spot on the Corny Collins Show while at the same time striking a blow against segregation.

She is a bundle of energy with a fine voice and makes her mark in the sparkling opening number Good Morning Baltimore before going on to win the heart of handsome telly star Link Larkin, impressively played by Liam Doyle.

But this is much more than a one-girl musical. There's another fab 'female' in the Midlands' favourite stage star, Brian Conley, playing Tracy's megga-sized mum. Edna...albeit with the aid of a bumper bundle of padding and a wig or two.

Tracy (Laurie Scarth) and her dad Wilbur (Les Dennis)

Brian is brilliant, particularly in his hilarious duet (Timeless to Me) with Les Dennis who makes an important comedy contribution as the laundry lady's loveable husband, Wilbur.

Then there is Sandra Marvin, Motormouth Maybelle.What a voice, particularly when she sings I Know Where I've Been, and other outstanding performances come from Emma Dukes (Penny Pingleton), Gillian Kirkpatrick (Velma Von Tussle), Wayne Robinson (Seaweed) and Danny Bayne (Corny Collins).

Terrific choreography and great chorus work earned the whole cast a memorable standing ovation on opening night.

Hairspray fizzes on to June 19. Don't miss it.

 Paul Marston 

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