Reviewed by Jayne Wiggins
When Broadway came to Milton Keynes!
This feel good show had me rocking and dancing in my seat from start to finish. My jaw ached with smiling and I left the theatre fully entertained and unable to ‘Stop the Beat’ all the way home!
Tracey Turblad (Rebecca Mendoza) rocks out of bed to ‘Good Morning, Baltimore!’ and introduces the audience to her home area where she is known by all. A cuddly bundle of fun throughout the show, Rebecca played this part with the energy and excitement to make me rally for social justice! The show is set in the era of social segregation, though some of the injustices covered can be argued as much today as back then. Whilst I knew the show, I never fail to be shocked by the term ‘negro day.’ and the challenges this mostly fun loving show chooses to showcase.
Teamed up with her best friend Penny Pingleton (Annalise Liard-Bailey), Tracey excitedly looks forward to her evening tv show – the Corny Collins Show. A show full of heartthrobs of her time entertaining their audience with song, dance and gossip, centred around their sponsor of a hairspray brand. The show is predominantly white with a ‘negro day’ once a month where black dancers are allowed to perform to a different brand of music.
Tracey’s extravagant hairstyle lands her in detention at school where she meets many of the black dancers. Loving their style of dance and music, Tracey enjoys learning how to dance with her new found friends and voices how she would love it to be ‘negro day’ every day.
As the musical progresses Tracey is refused an audition to perform on the show but is spotted when the show comes to her high school. Her nemesis, Amber Von Tussle (Aimee Moore), is the daughter of the producer of the show, Velma Von Tussle (Gina Murray). By her own admission, Velma slept her way to the title of Miss Hairspray years before and has the same plans for her daughter. Whilst a limited dancing talent, Amber is being thrust into the limelight alongside the male star of the show Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks).
The unlikely new star, Tracey is the butt of cruel jokes, but her bubbly personality manages to win over her heartthrob Link. Still struggling to accept the socail injustices of the black dancers and challenging the social ladder her parents are on, Tracey demands to know why no one is fighting to integrate the dancers more. A powerful belter by Motormouth Maybelle (Brenda Edwards) tells how the fight must not stop even if it has been fought before. Her own personal fight is long forgotten but she is inspired by Tracey‘s energetic call to arms! Brenda’s own children Seaweed (Layton Williams) and Little Inez (Monifa James) are worried about the impact on the black people if they choose to fight for more air time.
The following protest rally sees many of the cast arrested and imprisoned before Tracey’s own father bails most of them out. As the instigator Tracey is refused bail but is eventually broken out of jail by her heartthrob Link.
The ending is a feel good happy ever after ending. The social injustices are recognised, Tracey’s parents Wilbur (Graham MacDuf) and Edna (Matt Rixon) are given opportunities and Velma Von Tussle is offered a promotion in turn for going against her own personal principles of integration.
The set was worthy of this magnificent theatre and the costumes gave all of the pazzaz deserving of Broadway. A special mention for the live band, given an elevated spot on stage throughout most of the show. It is great to hear a live orchestra or band, something which is often lacking in shows due to finance restrictions.
Not one person carried anyone else vocally. Every single performer deserved their spot on that stage. From vocals to dancing, every performer was superb. If I had to judge one aspect it would be that it was difficult to hear the words as Seaweed took his solo.
Two people who do deserve the shout out for this show are Matt Rixon and Graham MacDuff as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. Their comic timing hurt my sides which was particularly impressive as MacDuff was the understudy. The laughs they gave kept me giggling all the way home.
The standing ovation at the end was truly deserved, I was throwing my programme before the bows started and the audience began getting to our feet. I honestly believe the audience would have sang even if we had not been invited to join ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’! It felt natural and necessary to have a little dance and join the cast for a final happy song and leave the theatre to the chatter of audience member remarking about the quality of the vocals, the spectacle of the dancers and the happy buzz of people perfectly entertained.
Tickets cost from £17.50 to £60 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
Hairspray is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 9-14 April 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or call the box office on 0844 8717652.
Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK9 3NZ