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The Review - THEATRE by TOM FOOT
Published: 8 November 2007
Hairspray stands firm as a musical worthy of
West End stage

Tom King

THE glut of West End musicals is often cited as an example of British theatre’s perennial decline. While there is much to support this hypothesis in the recycled works of Andrew Lloyd Webber and his ilk, the musical can provide entertainment challenging and thought-provoking drama. This is precisely why the West End production of Broadway’s Hairspray should be welcomed with open arms.
The story centres around “pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad who finds solace in detention with her black classmates. Like her, they understand what it is to be different. Tracy’s love of music and dance leads her to audition for the Corny Collins Show; if she makes it on to screen as one of the dancers she might win the Miss Teenage Hairspray title, as well as the heart of the show’s good looking star Link Larkin. Thwarted by prejudicial attitudes towards her size and the scheming of her nemesis Amber Von Tussle, Tracy decides to rally the troops against the unofficial apartheid of 1960s Baltimore.
This new musical version of John Water’s cult 1988 film transposes the action rhythmically and dramatically to the stage. The slick direction of Jack O’Brien brings out the best aspects of what is essentially a fairytale with a serious subtext. Reinforced by the enjoyable and efficient choreography of Jerry Mitchell the play appears seamless in its execution, smoothly rushing the audience from prison to television studio as well as from drama to high-camp song.
Michael Ball vamping it up in drag steals the show as Tracy’s mother, but he is given a run for his money by newcomer Leanne Jones, whose performance as Tracy is one of remarkable composure and assurance for someone on the first professional engagement since leaving drama school.
Until March 2008
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