Michael Ball effortlessly brings Hairspray The Musical back to London’s West End with a side offering of panache and glamour. Slipping into Edna’s shoes and dancing around the outlandishly candy-coloured set that pays homage to 1960s Baltimore, this feel-good classic packed with flamboyant characters is enough to get even the most despondent theatregoer off their seats, after what has been an unimaginably trying fifteen months for us all.
It’s hard to deny that Hairspray is a modern musical classic. After a scintillating run on Broadway and the West End in the noughties, an A-list Hollywood film production, and an immensely popular TV representation, critics were waiting to see how director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell could reinvent this timeless classic while dealing with the many stereotypes the show attempts to satirise.
Given Hairspray’s re-emergence into somewhat delicate and divisive times, it’s perhaps a little disappointing that O’Brien didn’t do more to play down the racial stereotype that ‘white people solve racism’. In this respect, some of the show’s quirky one-liners can seem outdated and crass.
Yet while some might consider the handling of some of the racial issues within the production as clumsy, this is easy to overlook. We’re treated to a mesmeric performance by newcomer Lizzie Bea, who takes the role of Tracy to unimaginable new heights that fans of Tony-award winning actress Marissa Jaret Winokur, who portrayed Tracy in the show’s original Broadway run, scarcely thought possible.
While Ball’s portrayal of Edna is shrieking and full-frontal, it’s Tracy who is involved in the show’s finest moments. When she defies segregation and crosses Baltimore’s train tracks, the show switches gear, and we’re introduced to a fabulous Motown girl group. Here, show-stopping performances by the marvellous Ashley Samuels and Marisha Wallace remind us why this vibrant and effervescent show still has a place on London’s West End. Marisha’s roof-raising delivery song of protest is the show’s pièce de resistance and is the moment full of soul and vibrancy that the expectant audience was waiting to see. Special mentions for Michael Vinsen‘s role as a toothsome TV host and Georgia Anderson pitted against Tracy as her arch-nemesis, are also thoroughly deserved.
What’s more, the cartoon-esque set and vibrant colours that adorn the character’s regalia is one of the show’s most endearing features. It’s nigh on impossible to bear witness to this smorgasbord of vibrancy and innocence without bringing a smile to your face. After waiting so long to return to the West End, there’s no doubt that Hairspray the musical has delivered an all-singing, all-dancing production that very much ‘reads the room’ of the summer of 2021.
Leaving behind lockdowns and lockouts, we’re ready to return to life as we know and love it. And anyone that has seen O’Brien’s adaptation of Hairspray the musical will attest that this is very much the feel-good show that everyone needs to see.
Book your tickets for Hairspray.