Theatre Review: Hairspray - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

Edinburgh Playhouse
Review by Danielle Shields

Watching Hairspray is like entering the ideal American movie where eternally optimistic plastic cheerleaders have the power to dilute conflict with a fist full of pom-poms and a singing chant. The uplifting melodies and energetic performances are flawless in the musical, making it a fantastic method to escape from the brooding autumn weather which has begun crying from the skies.
The swinging sixties of 1962 never seemed more perfect than in Baltimore where innocent and loving Tracy Turnblad (Freya Sutton) dreams of a life of dancing. Her big hair does little to detract from her big body in the eyes of blonde-headed producer Velma Von Tussle, however, this doesnt stop Tracy from winning a desirable dancer position on the pop culture music and dance live TV show, The Corny Collins Show. Turnblad wishes to take her aspirations to the next level by making every day Negro Day. She becomes the leader of a campaign to break down segregation rules with the aim of making every race allowed to perform on the white dominated TV show.

For those who are familiar with the 1988 or 2007 films that the musical is based on, it may be worrying that the show is quite limited in offering originality to the story. Yet the musical at times does shine its own personality into the performance, particularly with the track Mama, Im a Big Girl Now. This single appears in the credits of the John Travolta starring film, however it makes far more sense for the musical to showcase this song as it acts as the perfect opportunity to highlight how the story expresses mother and daughter relationships.

Right from the opening scene we are absorbed into a world of rainbow colours, rhythm and blues and big hair. The primary single Good Morning Baltimore introduces us to Tracy lying upright in a quirky designed bed before jumping out and embracing the day ahead. From then on in the cheerful tone of the musical is unchallenged as a continuous roll of catchy uplifting melodies fill our ears. The music in the show is a flamboyant cheese-fest which many not reflect everyones tastes, but fan of former Hairspray productions will be impressed by these perfectly pitched performances.

The cast is a fireball of energy dressed in their accurate decorative costumes and wearing heavy crazy hairdos while constantly on their feet dancing to Jerry Mitchells choreography. Although there is not much in terms of character development in Hairspray, this works in the musicals favour as it means we have to stop comparing the show to reality, as the artificial to cheerful qualities of the characters compliment the world of Hairspray. Although the musical does tackle the huge issue of race, taking a fun and provocative angle on the serious and ever-present subject. Hairspray almost seems to suggest that change shouldnt pose such difficulties as it does in reality.

Its hard to see how this can be Freya Suttons debut professional theatre performance as she is precise as Baltimores sweetheart Tracy. One of the best actresses is ex-Eastenders star Lucy Benjamin, who fills in the sparkling yellow slippers of confident The Corny Collins Show producer Velma Von Tussle. It is a shame that Motormouth Maybelle (Sandra Marvin) is absent until the end of Act 1 as Marvins voice is phenomenal. Her delivery of the final powerful notes in I Know Where Ive Been has the ability to create goosebumps on even the toughest of men.

The one character who is always going to steal the show is Edna Turnblad. Mark Benton has a lot to live up to when playing Tracys mother as the role was originally portrayed by Divine in his final film and John Travolta six years ago. Fortunately he wins the hearts of the audiences with his performance of the caring mother. The cute and romantic number, Timeless to Me sees Edna along with her husband, Wilbur Turnblad (Paul Rider), duet in the funniest performance of the night having the crowd roaring in stitches and causing Benton himself to giggle his lyrics.

Hairspray ticks all the boxes in providing a flamboyant fantastic musical. With a large bubbling cast, entertaining dancing and catchy music, it is the perfect show in creating a contagious gleeful spirit which will be enjoyed by all of the family.

Four stars ✭✭✭✭

Hairspray is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 14th September.