Review by Hannah Richardson
I defy anyone to sit through the new touring production of the musical Hairspray and not come away with lifted spirits.
Billed as “the ultimate feelgood show”, this high-energy production certainly worked its magic on one tired old journalist on Monday’s opening night at Milton Keynes Theatre.
And to judge by the rapturous standing ovation it received at curtain call from the mainly young audience, they loved it too.
It’s Baltimore in 1962, where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and a big heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV.
Tracy’s audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for equality, bagging local heartthrob Link Larkin along the way.
The original production of Hairspray in 2002 won eight Tony Awards, and four Olivier Awards when it transferred to London in 2007.
The new touring production, which is at MK Theatre until Saturday, is fast-paced, bright and upbeat.
Seldom have I seen such consistently high-octane and imaginative dancing from a chorus line, who never seemed to tire.
Under the direction of choreographer Drew McOnie, who has just walked away with an Olivier award for Best Theatre Choreographer for In The Heights at the King’s Cross Theatre, the agile young ensemble were absolutely superb.
Much of the singing is first-rate too, notably the Dynamite trio of Vanessa Fisher, Bobbie Little and Aiesha Pease.
X Factor semi-finalist Brenda Edwards is spellbinding in the role of Motormouth Maybelle, with a magnificent voice and huge stage presence.
Matthew Rixon and Peter Duncan make a loveable and touching ‘little and large’ double act as Tracy’s parents, Edna and Wilbur, with superb comic timing in their duet together.
Monique Young also stands out as Penny Pingleton, and Claire Sweeney gives it her all as Velma Von Tussle.
Leading lady Freya Sutton has all the warmth and likeability you would want of Tracy, and strong set of lungs to belt out the numbers – although I would have liked to hear her sing in her natural voice, as I found her girlish American accent irritatingly nasal.
The show deals with some very serious issues, such as racial segregation. Tracy learns her winning dance moves from her black friend, Seaweed, but black and white kids cannot be seen dancing together in public in 1960s Baltimore.
But the overriding spirit of this show is optimism.
It certainly put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.
For tickets call 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes