Artisteer

Hairspray's Blessing: Hotly Anticipated Tranfer to London

~ Mark Senior for Broadwayworld.com - 12/11/2007 ~


After years of fruitless speculation, the long overdue and hotly anticipated transfer of Broadway smash Hairspray has finally arrived in the Shaftsbury Theatre. And for a venue that has recently been plagued by a stream of short-run productions with poor box office success, what a blessing this must be. For surely here is a show that is set to run and run.

Adapted from the 1988 cult film of the same title, Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a young 60's Baltimore girl who wants nothing more than to dance on the set of the famed Corny Collins Show. The only trouble is, Tracy's big personality has a big waste line to match, and Baltimore is not a place for people who are different.

Marc Shaiman's score oozes an unrelenting energy, with fantastically catchy melodies and a driving rhythm that leaves the foot mindlessly tapping from start to end. The larger dance numbers such as ‘Nicest Kids in Town' burst through the roof with such momentum that, but for a sprinkling of quieter moments, you barely have chance to catch your breath. With Scott Wittman's witty, thoughtful, and at times hilarious lyrics the songs also become the perfect vehicle for the narrative. Rather than stalling the action, even the larger chorus numbers act to communicate some of the bigger themes of prejudice and segregation, where ‘nice white kids' can lead the way while anyone who is different trails behind.

Visually, Hairspray has all the colour, boldness and vivacity needed to complement what is a vibrant story full of larger than life characters. David Rockwell's sets, which have a deliberately two-dimensional feel in order to capture the 1960's small screen aesthetic, are a sumptuous mix of candy pinks, blues and yellows, and William Ivey Long's outrageous costumes look something close to edible. While Edna Turnblad's numerous bright and busy frocks provide some of the show's visual highlights, homage must also be paid to Tracy's infamous hairdo, which throughout the first act becomes increasingly and ridiculously over proportioned.

LeAnne Jones, making her professional debut as the loveable Tracy gives a spirited performance, moving with an eager and endearing awkwardness while singing wonderfully in sugary bubblegum tones. From the moment she steps out of bed in the jaunty opening number Goof Morning Baltimore, the audience is on side and positively cheers when events unfold in her favour. Musical theatre veteran Michael Ball also proves to be a stroke of casting genius, and is almost unrecognisable as the gutsy mother Edna Turnblad. At points his comic timing is impeccable and the audience is left in stitches at the simple turning of a head. A highlight is You're Timeless To Me, a duet with on stage husband Wilbur Turnblad (played by Mel Smith) where each comic line or witticism is delivered with a self-knowing irony. Notable performances from supporting cast come from Tracy Bennett, who plays vicious television producer Velma Von Tussle, and Rachael Wooding, who plays her brattish daughter Amber. Bennett's hateful facial expressions are almost cartoonish, and her general fierceness is hilariously absurd given the fluffy context. Wooding also delivers her lines with a brash American whine and scoops of sarcasm that make her strangely likeable.


Where this show really succeeds however is in its ability to underpin some potentially heavy themes with a light-hearted optimism. Issues of racism, prejudice and segregation are all very much at the forefront, but they are filtered through Tracy's world where there is an unending supply of hope and self-belief. Essentially this is a feel good musical with enough depth to have substance, but not so much that the story becomes overly philosophical. In short, Hairspray has every ingredient for the perfect night out: supercharged dance, toe-tapping music, loveable characters, oodles of comedy and bucket loads of colour. What a bag of treats.

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The Times - 31/10/2007 Artisteer

Hairspray

~ Benedict Nightingale for The Times - 31/10/2007 ~


As I've battled through its tiny, gridlocked foyer into the cavernous auditorium below, I have often wondered if the Shaftesbury Theatre has a death-wish; but seldom more than last night. Whoever decided to bring the stage version of the film Hairspray to London immediately after its remake has come bouncing on to British screens, gaining rave reviews and, no doubt, audiences for whom one viewing is enough?

Well, if the impresarios have goofed, they've goofed happily, for the musical is as delightful as I recall it being on Broadway three years ago and more immediate than it could ever be in the cinema. True, the tale of chubby, chunky Tracy Turnblad, who wears what looks like a lacquered wolverine on her head and thinks she resembles Jackie Kennedy, is unashamedly and, at times, absurdly sentimental. But when Leanne Jones's Tracy is bounding about the stage exuding all-American resilience and optimism — well, she brought out the inner cheerleader I didn't know I had.

Her world is Baltimore 1962, a place evoked by dresses vaguely indebted to Doris Day and male clothes seemingly designed for aspiring golfers, and her miniworld is the Corny Collins Television Show, which allows kids to dance and maybe even win the Ultra-Clutch Hairspray Company's annual Miss Teenage Hairspray Contest.

The musical resembles Grease, then? Yes, but only a bit, for Hairspray is wittier, funnier, more good-natured and, without being pretentious, more morally and politically aware.

Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's book is a salute to difference. That's defined both as being fat, like Jones's Tracy or Michael Ball as her gloriously bloated mother, and, more seriously, as being black in racially divided Maryland. So our heroine's aim isn't only to do well on the dance floor, beating her plastic-doll schoolmate Amber, but to integrate Corny Collins's show, besting Amber's ruthlessly ambitious, racially bigoted mother, Velma.

Since Rachael Wooding's Amber has “acne of the soul”, and Tracie Bennett's Velma something like spiritual smallpox, it is obvious she will succeed. But anyone would forgive the show's wishfulness, given the ebullience of Marc Shaiman's rock, which might have been written for and delivered by Elvis himself, and the quality of Jack O'Brien's cast, which matches its Broadway counterpart for energy.

There are stand-out black performers in Johnnie Fiori's magnificent music-shop empress and Adrian Hansel as her son Seaweed and, from Ball's vast dimpling rhino of a Mrs Turnblad and Mel Smith as his/her not-exactly-wee husband, two actors with enough sly sense of mischief to embellish any upmarket panto at Christmas.

What is surprising is that the show gently spoofs itself and what's refreshing is the sophistication of its jokes. As friendly and unfriendly whites pack into Fiori's music shop, someone remarks that “if we get any more in here, it'll be a suburb”. You wouldn't get lines like that in Grease, Fame or any other ode to American high-school life. No wonder I left the Shaftesbury thinking it was a pretty welcoming place after all.

 

Michael Ball @ Social Media
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Concert Series: Summer & Winter 2017
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Release Date New Album: 27 October 2017
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Contact Us | JBN - The Team | Home
Copyright © 2016 ---. All Rights Reserved. ---

Website Owners: Kerstin Wohlgemuth (Dulmen, Germany) and Julia Sedat (Potsdam, Germany)

This is not an official website. Michael Ball does not own, control, authorize or endorse it, nor is he responsible for its contents.
Any emails sent to this website will NOT be forwarded to Michael Ball..