High-energy musical is a real delight

~ Wales Online - 09/04/10 ~

IF I could bottle up the ingredients of Hairpray and flog it, I'd probably be a millionaire.

For if the smiling faces in the audience after a performance of this hit musical are anything to go by, it's the best tonic since weatherman Derek Brockway announced the umbrella season is over – for now at least. From the moment the curtain rises to the brilliant finale, this colourful West End favourite is a joy.

Heading the stellar cast, Michael Ball is unrecognisable as 1960s Baltimore housewife Edna Turnblad. Donning a fat suit, wigs, fancy frocks and high heels, he is totally convincing as the mother of Tracy Turnblad, the teenager with the big heart, and even bigger hair, who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show.

But there are many obstacles in Tracy's way. When she is rejected by racist producer Velma Von Tussle because of her size, along with black girl Inez, Tracy sets about trying to rectify the situation.

Laurie Scarf is well cast as loveable Tracy. She has sassy and confident down to a tee but she also shows real emotion as she lusts after local heartthrob Link Larkin.

Fresh from the stage version of High School Musical 2, Liam Doyle has found his niche as the young, handsome, romantic lead in musicals. He was chosen by GMTV viewers to play Troy in HSM2 and Link is a natural progression. Emma Dukes is a scene-stealer as Tracy's feisty friend Penny Pingleton and Gillian Kirkpatrick and Clare Halse are wonderfully over-the-top and bitchy as ambitious mother-and-daughter, Velma and Amber Von Tussle.

Sandra Marvin showcases her incredible voice as Motormouth Maybelle but, for me, even she couldn't top the fantastic duet between Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, sensitively played by Les Dennis.

The great thing about Ball's performance is that you forget he's a man playing a woman so there's real chemistry between him and Dennis as husband and wife. And when they sung Timeless To Me, packed with some hilarious one-liners, even they couldn't keep straight faces.

Hairspray has got everything right – from the sets and costumes down to the music and storyline. And there's not one weak member of the cast. It's the perfect pick-me-up.

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