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When Hairspray ran in London’s West End in 2008, the musical comedy won four Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. So, naturally, Edinburgh had high expectations with the hit production coming to town.
Based on John Waters’ cult 1988 movie of the same name, Hairspray tells the story of the big girl with the big hair, Tracy Turnblad (played by an ever-enthusiastic Rebecca Mendoza), and her overnight transformation from high school nobody to television star of The Corny Collins Show. But Hairspray isn’t just some Cinderella story – the play promotes a powerful message through dance and song by exploring the racial tensions and segregation of 1960s Baltimore, with Tracy leading the way to social change.
Overall, Hairspray is a fantastic production, and whatever you love or hate about musicals it pretty much has it all.
From the set to the music and choreography, it’s a camp and colourful production – but unfortunately it all just feels a bit incessant at times. The score is undeniably well put together and delivered, but the songs are unnecessarily long and verging on tedious, despite the stellar deliveries.
That said, the cast of Hairspray really excelled during the more comedic moments and You’re Timeless to Me – performed by Matt Rixon and Norma Pace, who play Tracy’s plus-size loving mother Edna and father Wilbur Turnblad – was the moment the audience had been waiting for. A laid-back routine with perfect comic timing made this light-hearted number one of the most enjoyable of the show.
Hairspray aims to show the power youth culture has in bringing about social change, but despite the underlying message it’s really the mothers who steal the show.
Alongside Edna, pushy mother/former beauty queen Velma Von Tussle (played by Gina Murray) was the perfect scheming has-been and Murray proved to be a real class act, as well as the activist and DJ, Motormouth Maybelle (X-Factor’s Brenda Edwards), who really wowed the audience. Edwards’ powerful call for racial equality in the gospel-style, soul song I Know Where I’ve Been was by far the standout performance of the night – and certainly one that’ll be remembered.
Hairspray runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday, 17 March.
Words: Aimee Stanton