Theatre Review: Hairspray (UK Tour) - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭✭


Edinburgh Playhouse
Review by Anne Mackie

13th March 2018: Big hair, big heart and even bigger dance moves. The multi-award winning smash hit ‘Hairspray’ is a musical that undefinably has it all. Based on the film of the same name, the musical is set in 1960’s Baltimore and tells the story of Tracy Turnblad – a larger than life teen who finds fame fighting for equality and racial integration on the predominantly one-sided yet much hyped ‘Corney Collins Show’. 

A somewhat timely and relevant narrative given today’s current affairs, however this critically acclaimed musical is jam packed full of comedy, love and impeccably well-choreographed routines – wrapped up spectacularly in an infectious musical score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Admittedly, it’s hard not to fall in love with the bright, bold, bouffant musical we’ve come to know and love – from the moment the overture starts, the 2018 UK touring cast are wholeheartedly committed to telling Tracy’s story with exactly the right amount of pizzazz expected from a narrative of this calibre. Fronting the production is Rebecca Mendoza as the quirky, determined and curvaceous Ms Turnblad. A role that is a mean feat for any young actress. Mendoza oozes personality and professionalism, supporting a tremendous singing voice that irrefutably brings the score to life. 
However, it may be noted that some of her mannerisms veer more on juvenile than endearing at times – a minor quip in an otherwise outstanding performance. Mendoza is ably supported by an incredibly strong cast – all of whom encapsulate their retrospective roles to a tee. 

Particular mention must go to Layton Williams as Seaweed and Gina Murray as Velma Von Tussle – both of whom unequivocally raised the performance bar – Williams with his soulful vocals and clean cut back flips and Murray with a belt that blew the roof off Baltimore! The stand out performance of the night however came from X Factor finalist Brenda Edwards as Ms Motormouth Maybelle in her stunning rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’. A moment that could melt event he coldest of hearts! The onstage band, led by Musical Director Richard Atkinson, made moments such as this even more poignant as the audience could visually experience the melodic fusion of musicianship between performer and orchestra.

In addition, what made this production stand out was the tight, well placed and unwaveringly paced choreography – delivered expertly by Choreographer Drew McOnie. Movement served a purpose, supporting the narrative and musicality superbly throughout the production.

What became obvious as the musical progressed was the overall aesthetic of the piece. The 2018 revival took less ‘caricature’ route, allowing for a more ‘real’ interpretation than the musical’s previous counterparts. This was apparent through the use of a minimal, limited set and the incorporation of signature video projections compiled by Video Designer, Dick Straker. In many respects this worked to the production’s advantage – allowing for smooth, unfaltered transitions, however, in others, it unfortunately came across as a little bit ‘budget’. Some scenes lacked colour, personality and drive, coming across vaguely monotone at times. Matt Rixon and Norman Pace (as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad)’s pivotal number ‘Timeless to Me’ being a key example of this notion.
This aside, it’s hard not to fall in love with the musicality and narrative that Hairspray stands for. 

With key messages that still resonate today, this is a production that truly is ‘Timeless to Me’ – a production that undeniably ‘Can’t Stop the Beat’ with its infectious heart and humour. It is not a carbon copy of the original Broadway and West End adaptions but it provides much the same wit, sentiment and soul. And who can argue with that? Head on down and catch ‘The Nicest Kids in Town’ while you can!

Four stars ✭✭✭✭

‘Hairspray’ runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre, Greenside Place until this Saturday.

Full tour dates and more info here: