Standing ovations at The Bristol Hippodrome are commonplace these days. They are, however, rarely deserved as much as the one given to the UK touring production of Hairspray, which opened at the Bristol theatre last night.
This is the third time I’ve seen the touring show in the city. I was settled for a pleasant and predictable evening. What I was not prepared for was the sheer energy, enthusiasm and sensational performance that was given.
From the start, Rebecca Mendoza’s heart warming performance of Tracy Turnblad cheered the audience. Hairspray is her professional debut and what a start to her career. Big numbers Good Morning Baltimore, I Can Hear The Bells and You Can’t Stop the Beat were some of the best moments in the show, all of which she totally rocked. She has a big voice and carried off the figuratively big character with warmth and depth, really making this show.
Obviously she’s not working in a void and is backed by a stunning cast of quirky and larger than life characters including the glorious Brenda Edwards back as Motormouth Maybelle, funny funny Matt Rixon as Edna Turnblad and Gina Murray as the delightfully devious Velma Von Tussle.
Matching the strong voices in the show with his incredible dancing was Layton Williams as Seaweed. His sextuple pirouettes, acro and gravity defying grand jete a la seconde with style and grace was refreshing and entertaining to watch.
For those who don’t know the story of Hairspray, it’s not complex, making this a fab chill out musical. It follows teenager Tracy Turnblad, a big girl, with a big personality who is determined to be a dancer on the Corny Collins Show. She meets barriers along the way and in turn, helps to break down barriers with her friends from Motormouth Maybelle’s Record Shop.
There is a basis of truth in the events of the story. The Corny Collins Show and the storming of the studio by black and white teens opposed to segregation is based upon a real event which happened in Baltimore in 1963 during the Buddy Deane Show.
There is racist and disablist language in the show. It is used in context by caricature characters who are held to ridicule throughout. But of course, the words are jarring and it’s best to be mindful of the impact they may have on younger audience members.
Having said that, the strong themes of racism in the storyline are as pertinent today as ever. Subject material is carefully and sensitively handled within the context of the comedic and light-hearted show.
It is set in the historical context of 1962 Baltimore which is still failing to allow people of colour to integrate into society. You don’t need to wander far from 2018 Facebook and the Daily Mail comments section to find there is still a whole lotta ugly comin’ from a neverending parade of stupid.
Hairspray embraces diversity, individuality, body confidence, kindness, acceptance, gender fluidity and fighting for equity. There aren’t many shows that can pack that kind of punch alongside a funny book, sing-along numbers and energy that enthuses the audience.
After dreary weeks of bad weather, snow and dull February, Hairspray is the perfect pick-me-up.
It’s at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 10 March 2018. Guaranteed to brighten up your week.
More information about Hairspray UK Tour: www.hairsprayuktour.com
Bristol Hippodrome: www.atgtickets.com/Bristol