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Hairspray

~ William Russell for The Herald - 01/11/2007 ~


Film versions of stage musicals used to have to wait until the show's stage life was over. But this energetic show, based on the old John Waters film about rock'n'roll and big hair styles in 1962 Baltimore, is the exception.

The film version of the Broadway musical was released this summer, yet here, with an all-British cast, we have the stage show, now in its fifth year on Broadway. Marc Shaiman's loud score is lacking in memorable tunes, and one cannot catch all the words of the lyrics above the noise from the orchestra, but if Hairspray the musical is an overly camp reincarnation of a dated piece of cinematic schlock, it hardly matters.

A splendid cast, gloriously tacky sets by David Rockwell, gorgeous drag by William Ivey Long, dazzling choreography by Jerry Mitchell and slick direction of Jack O'Brien save the day. Hairspray is not a great musical, but it is great fun. Newcomer Leanne Jones, as Tracy Turnblad, the fat teenager with a lot of lacquer, who longs to dance on a TV show and makes friends with coloured folk - unheard of in Baltimore in the 1960s - is terrific. She has a powerful voice and charm.

As her mother, Edna, Michael Ball has the part of a lifetime. Obese and camp, Ball is the best pantomime dame London has seen in years. He and Mel Smith, in fine form as Tracy's dad, Wilbur, have a hilarious duet in which they celebrate the joys of married life. There is immaculate support from Tracie Bennet as Vilma Von Tussle, producer of the show Tracy wants to be on, and Johnnie Fiori as Motormouth, a blond-haired, red-hot momma civil rights activist. Forget grease, try lacquer.

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