West End Whingers Review

~ - 18/10/2007 ~

So would the visit to Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre drive a final wedge between the Whingers after they had managed to endure the combination of two weeks in each others' company and pan-pipes during their “ mysterious ” expedition to the high Andes? Not quite.

Thank heavens for the show. By the interval everyone (even Phil) was in a good mood and enjoying themselves intensely. Happily, the Sturm und Drang of the few last months proved worthwhile and were paying dividends.

Because, somewhat embarrassingly, it was such a good show that the Whingers couldn't come up with a single thing to whinge about (although Phil was unreasonably iffy about the sound balance, but then it was an early preview blah blah blah).

Packed full of energy and humour (hoorah! a proper musical!), the show lifted the spirits of everyone in the party.

Newcomer Leanne Jones was almost totally forgiven for snatching the part of Tracy Turnblad which the Whingers had earmarked for Katie Kerr . She is utterly lovable. The Whingers' only concern is that with the energy she puts into the singing and dancing (this is a very demanding role) will result in a weight-loss so severe that she'll be down to a size 0 within weeks and no longer be suitable for the role.

There are some impressive performances too. Psychic singer Johnnie Fiori pulls all the stops out for Motormouth Maybelle (although we would also be interested in seeing her understudy who according to the programme is just called “Yaa”) and former Coronation Street star Tracie Bennett makes a terrific Velma von Tussle. Hats off too to Elinor Collett (Penny Pingleton), Adrian Hansel (Seaweed) and, well, everyone really.

Any Dream Will Do runner-up Ben James-Ellis is fine as heartthrob Link Larkin and although Mel Smith seems a bit lost in the rather under-written role of Wilbur Turnblad, he enjoys himself immensely in “You're Timeless To Me”, his big duet with Edna Turnblad.

Ah yes. Edna. The big question of, course, is: What about Michael Ball as Edna?.

Ball (of whom, you will recall, the Whingers have never really got the point until very recently ) was a complete revelation, although erstwhile guest reviewer Lady Skipper (fresh from “darkest” Peru with the Whingers) was puzzled, scratched his elegant chin and asked Phil during the interval: “Who's playing the mother?”

The Whingers had been initially doubtful about the casting of Ball and though Phil still thought he hadn't come close to Harvey Fierstein 's Broadway creation they were both surprised how comfortably he filled the shoes. He certainly filled the frocks.

There were audible gasps when Ball made his first appearance as the pre-makeover Edna - he looked astonishingly like Divine in the original movie and he clearly has been paying attention to what's required of the role. Edna doesn't need to be able to sing at all, of course, so Ball's casting was a bit of a surprise, but he proves himself to be a first rate Edna with great comic delivery and he really, really gets Edna (and loves her).

And this is the secret of the joy of Hairspray really - the sheer lovability of the characters. Combine that with a fantastically early sixties colour palette across the sets and the costumes, fabulous wigs, loads of oomph, great songs (although, to be fair, they are at first sound rather too derivative, but improve massively on second and third hearing) and you've got something that hasn't been seen at the Shaftesbury for rather a long time - a hit. Indeed the Whingers predict that the “home of the hits” monkey will finally jump off the back of the Shaftesbury Theatre and on to that of - mmmm, let's see - the Novello ?

What else is there to say? Possibly just to please the Whingers there was some business involving food falling into orchestra pit and the over-sized and beautifully produced programme was priced at just £4.

Indeed, so overwhelmed were the Whingers that they forgot to take a photograph of their entourage on this occasion, partly because some lightweights thought that a WEW outing ends when the curtain comes down. But with a creditable running time of two and a half hours there's still an hour or more of drinking to be done - until the pub staff actually come and take your table away which you should apparently take (eventually) as a subtle message to go home.

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