“If we get anymore white people here,” says Little Inez, the sparky kid sister of the male half of Baltimore's first inter-racial teenage couple in this latest touring revival of the 1960s-set John Waters inspired musical, “it'll be a suburb.” Such seemingly throwaway observations speak volumes about where writers Marc O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's book is coming from in Paul Kerryson's production, which originated at Leicester's Curve Theatre.
Adapted from Waters' 1988 commercial breakthrough film and taken from real events, for all it's bubblegum-coloured nostalgia , Hairspray is a show that lays bare the brittle superiority of so-called normal society. That it does so with an all-singing, all-dancing cast led by Freya Sutton as curvy heroine Tracy Turnblad and Tony Maudsley cross-dressing as her mother Edna makes it even better.
Sutton's Tracy is “that chubby Communist” who wants every day to be Negro Day on the racially segregated teenage TV show overseen by Claire Sweeney's Velma Von Tussle. But Tracy and her geeky pal Penny, played here with zest by understudy Natasha Mould, find a whole new world beyond it.
If some of composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Whittman's numbers sound a tad beige, it's in part a reflection of how so-called 'race music' was blanded out by white boy rockers. This is more than made up for by Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, who gets back to music's gospel roots on a showstopping I Know Where I've Been. While such an over-riding mix of high camp, social comment and issues of body image, racism and otherness may reveal Hairspray as a forerunner to Ryan Murphy's TV canon, largely this is plus-sized entertainment to relish.
The Herald, February 25th 2016