Review: Hairspray, by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, Gallery Players at New Wolsey, July 8-11
This is the Sixties come to life, bouncing with energy and bursting with a terrific collection of songs that get the feet tapping with a relentless rhythm and send the audience out into the night with a big beaming smile.
The interesting thing is that all this high-octane music is wrapped round a serious story about race relations in Baltimore, a city on the border of the American North and South, and how it takes people-power to spread the gospel of equally. But it is done so tongue-in-cheek that you are carried along with the idea like a leaf in a stream.
It is also tale about size because the heroine of this piece is not your usual long-legged, sylph-like leading lady. Tracy Turnblad is short and well-rounded but a nice little mover who fancies her chances as a dancer on the amateur night of the Corny Collins TV Show.
The whites and the blacks dance on different nights and when Tracy becomes a remarkable overnight telly sensation she dedicates herself to bringing them all together. It is a step too fast to start with and she’s clapped in jail but, of course, good always wins in the end.
It’s not just the music that has inundated this show with awards. It’s a big ensemble musical, chock full of dance and movement and Gallery Players has pulled together a cast that doesn’t put an arm or a foot wrong. Choreographed by David Hockley, it’s not too fancy or complicated – just beautifully drilled and a joy to watch.
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Natasha Abbott’s Tracy is quite a find, full of confidence, a natural mover and blessed with a good voice in numbers like I Can Hear the Bells and Without Love and she is surrounded by a lot of talent. Ellena Bacon, who plays her gawky best friend is very funny and Tom Mayhew, as her heartthrob Link sings well.
Tim Holder has a lot of fun in dresses as Tracy’s mum and, with Darren Beattie as Wilbur her dad, sings You’re Timeless To Me, one of the highlights of the night. Shelley Clempson has a couple of good songs as Velma, the TV studio owner, and Maria Mattisson as Motormouth Maybelle, brings the house down with Big, Blonde and Beautiful and I Know Where I’ve Been.
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But this a big cast and they all play a vital part in what is a lovely, jokey and very tuneful night of entertainment, all driven along by the excellent powerful orchestra under the direction of Richard Healey and Neil Somerville.