Saturday, 12 June 2021

Musical comes out fighting for the right to be different

Musical comes out fighting for the right to be different

Hairspray | Wycombe Swan | Monday, May 21

IN Hairspray we are transported to 1962 Baltimore, where we meet Tracy Turnblad (Rebecca Mendoza), a teenager obsessed with TV, music and dance.

Born into a humble family — and on the plump side — Tracy at first seems an unlikely screen star.

But she persistently seeks an audition for the Corny Collins Show, where she transforms from ordinary girl to local celebrity, in spite of the sabotaging efforts of the scheming Velma Von Tussle (Gina Murray) and her vain daughter Amber (Aimee Moore).

Tracy shows form as a rebel early on in the narrative when her bouffant hairstyle lands her in trouble at school.

But exclusion from classes leads to unexpected inclusion as she makes new friends amongst the black community and begins to campaign for their rights.

Paul Kerryson’s pacy, vibrant production captivates. Visually it’s knockout — a colourful kaleidoscope of sharp suits and swirling skirts. The dancing is superb, as is the music and song.

The band and ensemble raise the roof with toe-tapping numbers like You Can’t Stop the Beat but there are some powerful solo performances as well from the likes of Edward Chitticks as Link Larkin and Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle.

Hairspray is a period piece in several respects, not just because of the lovely vintage costumes and Sixties sounds.

In Sixties Baltimore some ugly racist views existed. Tracy bravely challenges these, to her cost.

Even in the context of a light-hearted musical, it still felt uncomfortable to hear outdated and unpalatable views expressed live on stage — but Hairspray is asking important questions about values.

It’s good to see the “I like the way I am” message win through in the optimistic and celebratory ending.

There’s love interest in Hairspray as well. While Link and Tracy grow towards each other, Seaweed (Layton Williams) finds love with Penny Pingleton (Annalise Liard-Bailey), winning her starchy mother’s grudging acceptance.

The couple who nearly steal the show, however, are Tracy’s parents, the Turnblads. Matt Rixon as Edna and Norman Pace as Wilbur pull off their duet You’re Timeless to Me to tender and comic effect.

The strong cast gave Hairspray all their passion and energy, so it was no surprise that this polished performance brought roars of appreciation from the audience.

If you want a great night out, go see Hairspray at the Wycombe Swan!

Until Saturday.

Susan Creed

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