Conley makes it a very good hair day

Edna and Tracy, Brian Conley and Laurie Scarth, lead the way in a five star production

Hairspray

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

IF EVER you wanted a definition of a of feel good musical then you don't really need to look any further than Hairspray. It is fast -paced, high energy, full of tunes and songs which are sort of familiar and most of all it is fun.

All right, if you want to be picky, it is at the meringue end of musical theatre, lightweight, fluffy, sugary sweet and with very little substance - it doesn't even have a song destined to become a standard - but it is glorious, unadulterated fun.

For a couple of hours at least you can leave all your troubles and worries behind and immerse yourself in the bubblegum world of  Enda Turnblad and her daughter Tracy, The Corney Collins Show and Baltimore in the 1960s.

Tracy dreams of becoming a dancer on the Corney Collins teen dance show and when she finally makes it she becomes an overnight sensation. She then uses her new found fame to become an unlikely civil rights leader battling for integration on the show.

The plot is based on John Water's 1988 comedy film which in turn was based, loosely, on a real live teenage TV show in Baltimore, The Buddy Deane Show, a sort of  Top of The Pops, which had a white audience only policy except for every other Friday when it was just black teenagers dancing to the music acts. Black and white teens dancing together would of course have thrown the earth out of its orbit and destroyed mankind. This was black OR white TV - until 1963 that is when an invasion of the studio during the show by black and white teenagers signalled the end of segregation on the show.

Brian Conley makes Edna believable taking the larger than life character far away from panto dame territory

Hardly a promising subject, rather like doing a musical about Rosa Parks or the Greensboro Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in of 1960.

But despite the subject and the fact anyone under 60 is unlikely to remember the segregation and marches, the injustice and brutality or the hope carried by Martin Luther King and the likes of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, Hairspray not only works but is infectious.

The music is familiar because it uses riffs and styles people who remember that era grew up with while the show is just so full of colour and dancing that feet hardly need any encouragement to start tapping. Along with the music there are also plenty of laughs - although quite a few of the one-liners will go straight over the heads of audience members without a bus pass.

Who Eddie Fisher? Who Debbie Reynolds? 

Meanwhile Laurie Scarth as Tracy is full of life from when the curtain opens and she is dreaming and singing in her bed while Gillian Kirkpatrick as the TV show's producer, Velma Von Tussle, schemes with the best of them .Her spoilt brat of a daughter Amber is played with a nice comic touch by Clare Halse who has developed a scram that could be used to break anvils.

Both girls are battling for the attentions of Link Larkin, Baltimore's answer to Elvis, played with a youthful innocence by Liam Doyle who has a pleasant voice to boot.

SEXY STUNNER

As for Tracy's friend, Penny Pingleton, played beautifully by Emma Dukes, she lives up to the Hollywood tradition whereby the plain, gawky one with glasses and no sense of rhythm and who gets every dance wrong is always going to turn out to be the sexy stunner if you wait long enough. The wait in this case was very worthwhile for Seaweed, Penny's black boyfriend (is the earth still spinning we ask?)  played by Wayne Robinson - and our Wayne can't half dance. 

Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed's dear old mum, might not have the biggest part but she certainly has the biggest voice and her powerful I Know Where I've Been is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Star quality is elusive. You can't teach it or learn it or even earn it. You either have it or you don't and Brian Conley has it in spades. He is the consummate showman and although he is hardly needed to lift what is an excellent cast he certainly adds a touch of razzmatazz, ably assisted by Les Dennis as husband Wilbur. Their front of curtain duet is one of the highlights of the show.

I saw the show earlier in the run at The Grand and after a few more months on the road it has bedded down into a real cracker - pure entertainment. After a night like that a standing ovation was a gimme. To 06-11-10

Roger Clarke 

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