HAIRSPRAY – Launch
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 6th October, 2015
Hairspray first saw the light of day – or the darkness of auditorium – in 1988 as a film by legendary director and Pope of Trash John Waters. It remains his only PG-rated material to date and launched Ricki Lake to stardom as overweight teen and wannabe TV star, Tracey Turnblad. Waters cast friend and long-time collaborator Divine as Tracey’s mother Edna and so, when the film was adapted as a musical for the Broadway stage, a theatrical tradition was established: Edna is now a plum role for men, with such luminaries as Michael Ball and John Travolta picking up her iron. In the current touring production, which arrives in Birmingham in time for Christmas, the role is played by Benidorm favourite Tony Maudsley who confesses he is getting used to the heels and the spanx. Teamed up with Blue Peter favourite Peter Duncan as husband Wilbur, the physical difference between the two maximises the comic effect. They treat us to a rendition of their duet You’re Timeless To Me, which is as charming as it is funny – although references to Geritol and Ripple may be lost on the casual audience member.
The event is hosted by Brookside favourite (I know, I keep saying favourite) Claire Sweeney who shows herself to be a natural at this kind of thing, with an easy-going, down-to-earth manner. Sadly, we don’t get to hear her sing on this occasion but she is keen to point out that the show is more than the pink and fluffy bit of fun its own publicity material might lead us to believe. The show is about tolerance, of accepting your own individuality, says Sweeney. With its backdrop of racial segregation in 1960s Baltimore, the show has an undercurrent of something more serious going on and, producer Matthew Gale points out, this production emphasises some of those darker aspects that previous versions may have glossed over.
We are treated to Without Love, reminding me of how vibrant Mark Shaiman’s score is and how funny the lyrics are (Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman). The highlight of the afternoon though is Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle belting out I Know Where I’ve Been, sending shivers down your spine. Even take out of context, this is a soulful crowd-pleaser, delivered flawlessly by one of the most powerful vocalists in the business.
My appetite is well and truly whetted for a return visit to the New Alexandra Theatre in December.
Hairspray runs from Monday 14th December 2015 until Saturday 2nd January 2016.