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17th November 2021

Review: Hairspray

Sophie Hicks reviews Hairspray at the Palace Theatre, starring Brenda Edwards and Norman Pace
Review: Hairspray
Photo: Mark Senior.

Good morning, Manchester!

Yes, Hairspray has returned to Manchester’s Palace Theatre as part of its current UK Tour, and I was thrilled to attend the opening night.

For the 2.5 people unaware of the plot of Hairspray, it revolves around teen Tracy Turnblad who lands her big break on The Corny Collins Show after being a dedicated fan. Tracy tries to turn the show upside down when she wants to help desegregate the performers whilst competing for Miss Teenage Hairspray.

The show is ultimately about the changing society of the 1960s, focusing on the US Civil Rights movement and embracing body positivity. Tracy is the catalyst for change – and Hairspray was just as refreshing to see live.

I’ve never seen Hairspray the musical before, but I love the 2007 film. That film is based on the 2002 Broadway musical, but there was also a previous 1988 film directed by John Waters.

The 2021 tour cast was incredible. Personal highlights for me included Alex Bourne as Edna Turnblad, who had excellent comedic timing whilst performing as a heartfelt mother, alongside The X Factor’s Brenda Edwards, who played an incredibly moving Motormouth Maybelle.

Edwards brought a tear to my eye during her rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ and was clearly a fan favourite by the rupture of applause that followed her performance. She played this role on the last tour; it’s no surprise she was asked to return.

Akeem Ellis-Hyman as Seaweed also had superb vocals and charisma, and I loved the energy that he brought to the role. 

This cast in particular had an incredible rapport, and I could tell that they loved performing in the show. If the cast are clearly having a great time, the audience can feel that energy and it significantly impacts the overall enjoyment.

In particular, Alex Bourne (Edna Turnblad) and Norman Pace (Wilbur Turnblad) had incredible chemistry during their performance of ‘(You’re) Timeless to Me’ where they both kept laughing at each other, which made the audience erupt with joy.

Pace, who has played this role before, is one half of the comedy duo Hale and Pace.

As Hairspray is crucially set in the 60s, era-appropriate costuming is a must. Takis did an incredible job, for the most part, with the costume design; I loved the bright and flowy fabric used for the outfits, which created great movement in the garments during the dancing – which there was a lot of.

Even when the cast had similar costuming, such as when Tracy and the gang are in prison due to protesting, the costumes still distinctly showed the characterisation of each person. For instance, Amber and her mother wore chevron, which is more flattering and fashion-conscious than the horizontal stripes that Tracy and her mother adorned. 

However, some of the costuming did fall flat for me, such as the shoes which I felt could have been more extravagant (although I do understand for practical purposes this probably wasn’t possible).

I also disliked Tracy’s dress during ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’. Whilst the dress beautifully caught the light with its rainbow sequins, I didn’t feel that it was flattering. Personally, I preferred the 2007 black and white checked dress that looked stylish whilst symbolising her goal of integration.

One thing that did catch me off guard was the ending because in the 2007 film that I was familiar with Little Inez wins Miss Teenage Hairspray. Whilst this isn’t in the original film nor the stage production, I do personally prefer that ending because I feel that it solidifies the theme of racial inclusion whilst giving the talented Little Inez a much larger contribution to the plot.

Whilst Tracy is also the symbol of inclusion due to her plus-sized positivity, I can’t help but prefer the alternative ending because it feels more radical.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Hairspray, and I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. In a world that can appear quite bleak at times, Hairspray is a symbol for hope.

The crowd were extremely energetic, and I heard people singing along to the hits and clapping to the beat. It felt like a breath of fresh air after a difficult 18 months where live audiences were not possible. The cast also radiated with positive energy, clearly happy to be back on stage after COVID-19 halted productions.

You can’t stop the beat, and you can’t stop the power of theatre.

Hairspray continues its UK tour until April 2022.

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