“Good Morning Aberystwyth!”- A Review of “Hairspray the Musical!”
Head down to the Aberystwyth Arts Centre this summer and witness the best musical that has ever graced the Theatre-Y-Werin stage, “its Hairspray!” Set in 1962 Baltimore, “Hairspray” tells the tale of Tracy Turnbland, a big girl, with big hair and big dreams to dance on national television as part of “The Corny Collins Show” in which she wins a guest spot and becomes and overnight sensation. The message presented is uplifting as Tracy an unlikely hero fights for integration and sets the standard that anyone can achieve their dreams no matter who they are or what they look like! “Hairspray” also depicts a changing era in history with the traditional attitudes of the 1950’s becoming more relaxed and accepting. However not everyone can quite shake the old ways away as bigoted TV producer Velma Von Tussle and her bratty daughter Amber attempt to thwart Tracy’s plans for a freer society. “Hairspray” is based on the John Waters 1988 film of the same name which starred a young Ricki Lake as Tracy and became a cult classic early on, however the more familiar adaptation would be the 2007 musical version starring John Travolta and Queen Latifah. John Waters film was adapted for the stage in 2002. The show has its little quirks such as the tradition of Edna Turnbland being played by a man as a homage to the late drag-Queen Divine’s performance in the original.
Anthony Williams’s production that is running until September 1st is absolutely sensational and demonstrates that you don’t need to travel far for a West End standard style show. It is difficult to even pick one fault with the entire performance. Each cast member did fantastic jobs with their roles creating a strong consistency throughout the duration, with the mix of professionals and local talent keeping the show refreshing. The singing and dancing were on top form, with the infectious songs being performed brilliantly. The cast had so much energy during the flawless dance numbers which were constantly so much fun and impressive to watch. The production is very colourful and light-hearted on the whole but it does squeeze in some powerful serious moments too. Marion Campbell’s rendition of “I know where I’ve been” as Motormouth Maybelle sends shivers down the spine, she has one of the most incredible singing voices, Andrew Agnew is very entertaining as Edna, Tracy’s downbeat mother who comes out of her shell later in the show, Jenny O’Leary’s Tracy is wonderful as she really carries the performance in the lead role making the character relate-able. Lori Haley Fox also plays the villainous Velma Von Tussle superbly, Arun Blair Mangat shows what a fabulous dancer he is as Seaweed and Oliver Ormson is sweet as Link, Tracy’s love interest. It is clear that the younger performers in the cast have real potential to become big stars one day. As previously stated it is difficult to single the cast members out as they all did fantastic jobs and have worked well together to bring the show and characters to life, its evident a lot of heart has gone into making the production as phenomenal as it is. You will laugh, cry, clap and find it a challenge to not move your feet. The set is limited due to the size of the stage and doesn’t provide many computerised technical aspects as seen in more recent musicals such as “Ghost”, however the use of a screen at the beginning of the show demonstrates how it is keeping up with the way modern shows are bringing in a cinematic quality to their productions. Also, for those more familiar with the 2007 film, the show gives out a bit extra by performing the omitted numbers including “Mama, I’m a big girl now” which provides the audience with a closer look at Tracy, Amber and Penny’s relationships with their mother’s, “The Madison”, “Cooties” and “The Big Dollhouse” which is one of the most comedic moments in the show, this aspect also helps to define the characters and develop them more than a film can due to timing restrictions.
It is guaranteed that “Hairspray” is the ultimate feel-good musical that also teaches its audience strong political and social messages while being quirky at the same time. Last night’s show received a standing ovation following the impressive finale, so show the cast and crew the praise they deserve by joining them in dancing and singing along to “You can’t stop the beat”. Also catch the cast perform in “The Magic of the Musicals” where they showcase their individual talents on August 19th.
Hayley Alice Roberts.