Review: Hairspray

The Edinburgh Playhouse, 21 December 2010

Rating: * * * * *

Thirty seconds after the overture of this musical, and one might be forgiven for thinking that Minnie Mouse and co have escaped from Disneyland; such are the actresses’ cartoon-like voices, and the Disney-esque feast which ensues.

Hairspray centres around the 1960s all-singing, all-dancing ‘Corny Collins Show’, based on actual American TV hit The Buddy Deane Show. The musical is a caricatural, hyperbolic vision of ’60s America, assuredly tongue-in-cheek rather than mindlessly frivolous, as those prejudiced against musicals may be inclined to think.

The cast’s dancing skills do not fail expectations, and their energy seems limitless. Wayne Robinson (Seaweed) in particular steals the show with his slick, James Brown-inspired moves. And to accompany the big hair are two big names: Michael Ball and Micky Dolenz, starring as Tracy’s mother and father. They do not establish themselves as worthy of the spotlight until their duet in Act Two, but then, finally, the well-timed humour and dirty ad-libbing injects the show with that extra bit of life. By the end, as Ball stands centre-stage in blonde wig and dazzling pink dress, you feel you have been catapulted out of the theatre to a family-friendly Las Vegas drag club.

Yet such an indulgent finale is fitting. Hairspray may lack profound moral or intellectual impact, but this production is a masterful quilt of accomplished direction from Jack O’Brien, energy and dedication from the cast, expert set design, stunning choreography, catchy songs, a witty script and warm connection with the audience. It may not leave you thinking, but it will leave you smiling.

Ally Lodge

Image: david.orban, Flickr Creative Commons