Brett Herriot Review

Hairspray, Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

“ still possess a potent heart!

*** 3 Stars

Hairspray the Musical is marking its 20th Anniversary since its debut on Broadway and has toured the UK since 2010. Current producers Mark Goucher and Matthew Gale who have produced the UK tour since 2015 return with a new production for 2022 which makes its first Scottish stop at the Edinburgh playhouse.

The book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and additional Lyrics by Scott Wittman stands the test of time. Wrapping bubblegum pop style songs around a story of racial inequality in 1962 America as viewed through the eyes of the youth who already understand that judging the colour of one’s skin is wrong and the greater challenge is understanding love as the defining marker of the journey to adulthood.

Hairspray has a potent point to make and there are moments in this mixed production where it truly delivers. As often happens with productions which tour regularly this new version of the show sports what can only be described as a minimal set design from set and costume designer Takis.  This set is as far is it’s possible to get from a Broadway or west end transfer and does the show a dis-service. It also leaves it relying on a series of projections on a flown cloth where for most of the time the projector isn’t strong enough to really bring it alive. That said the closing of ACT1 using a montage of the civil rights movement is an astonishingly powerful moment.

Performances are also mixed, however there is real star power from Alex Bourne as Edna Turnblad who delivers a dynamic performance full of comedy and knowing winks to the audience but his baritone voice soars at the right moment. His duet on “You’re Timeless to me” with Norman Pace as Wilbur Turnblad is the tour de force moment of the show leaving the audience wanting more.  Bernadette Bangura deps for an indisposed Brenda Edwards and my word can she sing as Motormouth Maybelle and brings a mid show standing ovation for her rendition of “I Know where I’ve been.” 

Katie Brace makes her professional debut as Tracy Turnblad and does a fine a job although one too many words are lost in the choice of rapid fire annunciation, more clarity is needed to get the character truly over. The same is true of Ross Clifton as Link Larkin, it feels almost a little miscast with a completely one dimensional portrayal of a character that has the most transformative journey in the show.

The ensemble deliver well and special mention must go to Paul Hutton and Ceris Hine as the Male and Female authority figures respectively they both shine in every character they portray.  Director Paul Kerryson has relied on the cast to get the story across and for the most part it works and it’s aided by Philip Gladwell rainbow scopic lighting design, he really brings the stage alive.

The now timeless score is also given a refresh with new orchestration by Ben Atkinson that’s delivered by an excellent 9 piece on stage band under the direction of MD Danny Belton.

The great joy of Hairspray has been in its choreography, for this production Choreographer Drew McOnie had deployed the same choreographic moves repeatedly and it shows. The dancers work mighty hard and need lots of stamina for the never ending running on and off that’s used. The choreography leaves you wanting so much more.  

Hairspray remains eternally popular due to its incredible score, characters and the real heart it possess, and the one thing this production really does achieve is putting that heart on show so it’s impossible to stay seated during the curtain call and remains a wonderful night out at the theatre and there is still much value for your ticket money.

So why not prove that you really can’t stop the beat and head for the playhouse before the final curtain comes down.

Hairspray, the Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Saturday 19th March, for tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/hairspray-the-musical/edinburgh-playhouse/

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