Artisteer

Hairspray

~ Kate Bassett for The Independent - 04/11/2007 ~


Tracy Turnblad is the Billy Elliot of Baltimore, 1962. The adolescent heroine of Hairspray is scoffed at for being both white trash and horizontally challenged – a girl of voluminous girth. In this buoyant Broadway family musical, it initially seems she'll never get to dance with the other teenyboppers on Corny Collins' hit TV show.

To realise her dream, Tracy (newcomer Leanne Jones) has to battle with the sneering wicked witch of a producer, Velma (Tracie Bennett), and her slim blond brat who has, hitherto, been the starlet of the show. However, Tracy has go-getting determination; she can boogie and Collins spots her talent. So she does go to the rock'*'roll ball in the end and she wins the heart of her bequiffed Prince Charming. More significantly, she manages to end racial segregation in the process.

The combo of tongue-in-cheek comedy and political protest is remarkably joyous. A flimsy Stars in Her Eyes storyline morphs into a local revolution as Tracy struts her stuff on the dance floor and simultaneously spearheads a resistance movement against the authorities' xenophobic policies. Everybody – black and white – is doing the twist together by the end.

Punters from the Department of Health may throw up their hands at a clinically obese role model who doesn't hate her weight. But Tracy's innate confidence is also a great antidote to the present size zero obsession and the self-scorning craze for putting yourself under the knife.

Directed by the Tony winner Jack O'Brien, this production contrives to be slick but also playful and warm. Brightly coloured, cartoony sets whizz in and out on wheels. The plot is tighter and the script funnier than in the original 1988 film.

Essentially, this is a kind of ebullient panto that has arrived in town a month early and will surely enjoy a long run. Michael Ball is having a blast in the Dame role as Tracy's mum. His salt-of-the-earth Edna is ludicrously charming: a mountain of flesh with twinkling, twirling flamboyance. Even if Mel Smith, as the affectionate Mr Turnblad, is not Ball's match as an actor or singer, they make a delightful odd couple, almost corpsing with laughter in their jokey, smooching duet.

Overall, the orchestra's volume needs turning down, and Jones may not be the world's best dancer but she is nimble on her pins and, along with the rest of the cast, full of beans. Johnnie Fiori is also storming as the lady DJ, Motormouth Maybelle, belting out the rousing anthem "I Know Where I've Been". Bouncy fun.

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