Tag Archives: Ceris Hine

Still Holding Up

HAIRSPRAY

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 19th October, 2021

Based on the 1988 film by self-proclaimed Pope of Trash, John Waters, this exuberant musical is doing the rounds again.  Admittedly, the source material is Waters’s most mainstream movie, but writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan retain much of the flavour of the original, especially the outlandish cast of characters.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the show now but each time I’m struck by how brilliant it all is.

It’s 1962 and teenager Tracy Turnblad, whose heart is even bigger than her dress size, auditions to be on the local hip TV show.  She witnesses the injustice of segregation in her hometown of Baltimore and unlike most people, goes all out to do something about it.  Making her professional debut in the role is Katie Brace and she’s absolutely phenomenal.  An irresistible stage presence, Brace brims with talent and humanity.  Tracy is the closest John Waters gets to a Disney heroine.

Continuing the tradition of casting a man in the role of Tracy’s mother Edna (in honour of Divine who originated the character) we are treated to the comedic stylings of Alex Bourne, a big fella whose Edna is full of sass and vulnerability.  The show is not only about the fight for civil rights.  With the Turnblad girls, it has a lot to say about self-acceptance and body positivity.  Bourne is marvellous and he’s partnered with Norman Pace as Tracy’s dad Wilbur.  Pace’s comic business befits joke-shop proprietor Wilbur.  His duet with Edna brings the house down.

The emotional core of the show belongs to Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle.  The song I Know Where I’ve Been is a searing civil rights anthem, lifting the show beyond its comedic shenanigans.  It’s a blistering moment in a score that is bursting with great songs, from the opening number to the rousing, joyous finale, You Can’t Stop The Beat.  Marc Shaiman’s melodies are infectious, and his lyrics (co-written with Scott Whittman) are witty and knowing. Excellent as the villains of the piece are Rebecca Thornhill as the bigoted Velma Von Tussle and Jessica Croll as her shrill daughter, Amber.

Making strong impressions among a hugely talented cast are Charlotte St Croix as Little Ines, Akeem Ellis-Hyman as the sinuous Seaweed, Richard Meek as the cheesy TV host Corny Collins, and Rebecca Jayne-Davis as Tracy’s eccentric best friend Penny Pingleton.  Ross Clifton’s Link Larkin, Tracy’s love interest, is suitably swoonsome, and there is strong support from Paul Hutton and Ceris Hine as a range of authority figures (teachers, prison guards etc).  But truly, the entire cast is magnificent, in great voice and expending vast amounts of energy executing Drew McOnie’s period-inspired choreography.

Of all the musicals currently doing the rounds, this is the one to see.  It’s a perfect show, funny and relevant, with an important message about inclusivity that it delivers with wit and style.

This is powerful, life-affirming stuff and no matter how many times I see it, Hairspray still holds up.

*****

Brenda Edwards sings the house down as Motormouth Maybelle (Photo: Mark Senior)

Doctored Heckles and Mistimed Jibes

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 28th January, 2013

 

Forty years old, Richard O’Brien’s camp cult favourite is touring in a new production directed by Christopher Luscombe.  Fans and devotees need not fear: all the elements are intact; the show has merely been tweaked and titivated to keep it fresh.

Many in the audience see it as an excuse to dress up and unleash their inner Frank N Furter.  Many a time and oft have I donned my Riff Raff outfit and I am almost regretting I didn’t make the effort on this occasion.  Dressing up is not vital to enjoying the show but it does add an extra frisson of fun, making the performance more of an event.

Sadly, in this age of health and safety, a lot of the traditional audience participation is now verboten.  Gone are the days of water pistols, packets of chips, decks of cards and even slices of toast.  What remains are the responses, a litany of abuse, whenever certain characters are named (Brad – “Asshole!”, Janet – “Slut!”, Dr Scott – “Sieg Heil!”) and heckling the cast with lines, some of them rehearsed and a few of them extemporised.  You can have too much of this, with the same loud-mouthed windbags running the same jokes into the ground.  For example, the first reference to Jimmy Savile was oblique and well-judged.  The second was crass and unfunny.  It is a skilful heckler who knows when to hold his tongue and when the moment for jibes has passed.

But enough of the audience.

Squeaky clean young Americans Brad (Ben “Jesus” Forster) and Janet (Roxanna “Emmerdale” Pallett) are travelling home from a friend’s wedding when the breakdown of their car causes them to take refuge from a storm in a nearby gothic castle.  This is the premise of many an old horror film – it has to be remembered the show is a satire of 1950s B movies.  Many of the references in songs and dialogue are of movies and movie stars no longer current in the popular imagination.  The castle is brimful with weirdos, and is the home of mad scientist Frank N Furter, who turns out to be a sweet (and gorgeous) transvestite, played with relish, poise and glamour by Oliver Thornton, who brings something of Jane Russell to his portrayal, if I might refer to an olde-time movie goddess.  Easily the best set of gams on display. He allows Brad and Janet to witness the culmination of his latest experiment, the creation of the perfect man.  He ends up with Rocky Horror, played here by Britain’s Got Factor’s Rhydian who has transformed himself into something of a beefcake.  Imagine Bob Downe crossed with Stretch Armstrong.

Presiding over the action is the Narrator, usually a thankless task, but here Philip Franks is perfect as the voice of authority, allowing the audience their fun and deflecting heckles and personal insults with wit and aplomb.  His is perhaps the most subtle performance and yet thoroughly in tune with the spirit of the piece.  Both Forster and Pallett are excellent as the white bread kids on a journey of sexual awakening, and Thornton’s Frank N Furter will stick in my memory for a long time.

Abigail Jaye (Magenta) and Ceris Hine (Columbia) are in fine form as Frank N Furter’s servants but for me the cream of this crop was Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff.  His rock star voice soared above everyone else’s and while he evoked Richard O’Brien in sound and appearance, he was still able to make the part his own.

The show itself reminded me of its delights: the score is tuneful, the dialogue deliberately cheesy, and the message goes beyond the spoofing of genre movies of a bygone era.  That message is to give yourself over to absolute pleasure.  But only for the moment.  It is a celebration of diversity and self-expression, although the feather boas and suspenders have become clichés.

The downbeat resolution is always sobering, I find – until the cast return for a curtain call and a couple of reprises to get us all on our feet and time-warping.  An exhilarating evening that demonstrates that entertainment is best left to the professionals and not the loudmouths who don’t know when enough is enough.

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