As Motormouth Maybelle sings towards the end of act 1 “We’ll be serving up a whole damn feast.” And that’s certainly what Bilston Operatic Company did last night with their effervescent production of Hairspray.
Based on the 1988 John Waters’ film, the musical first danced onto Broadway in 2002 and has been hoofing it’s oversized dresses and shoes in theatres all over the world regularly since. Rarely has a musical comedy got so many things just right, that it almost guarantees a sure-fire hit every time it’s performed.
However that does not mean it’s easy to perform. Far from it. The script may be sharp and witty, the excellent score a series of great pastiche numbers in various 1960s styles, but the whole show requires real commitment from a large cast, particularly as almost all the songs feature backing vocals, either on stage or off. It is a great credit to MD Ian Stevenson and his talented group of (largely very young) performers that, a few technical balancing glitches aside, were confidently handled on the first performance. They will only get stronger as the week goes on.
Also this is a massive dance show, and in this production the dancing is very much the star of the show. Producer/Choreographer Laura Canadine presents a series of stylized numbers all catching the mood of the period, and also helping to tell the story, which is no easy feat. Welcome to the 60s was a particularly good example of this, bringing several characters to the fore, while allowing the company to shine as well.
The only downside of a review like this is I cannot possibly do justice to every performance, but leading the company as the perennially cheerful and optimistic Tracy, Rebecca Luter easily holds the story together as she sings and dances her way seemingly effortlessly through the endless routines.
The show is often remembered for the part of Edna, Tracy’s mother, always cast with a male performer. Here Adam Starr seemed slightly uneasy at the start, and early dialogue (a lot of which has to be very carefully timed with the music, never an easy task) was rushed and barely comprehensible. However, in the scene leading up to Welcome to the 60s he found his feet, and from the moment be appeared in his great feathered dress in the middle of the number there was no looking back. From that moment he delivered an assured and charming comedic performance that always stayed the right side of Drag Queen grotesque. His duet with his jovial, loose limbed husband Wilbur, played by the excellent Phil Jackson, will long live in the memory for it’s great interpretation of old school Vaudeville and low comedy.
Jack Cottis (a sweet voiced Link Larkin), Niamh Allen (BOOOO!!), Laura Wynter (what a great soul voice), Adam Lacey (so cooly smooth) and Alicia Barnes (a classic WASP bitch!) all made very strong contributions, but for me the show was stolen by Francesca Holt’s nerdy Penny. It was a performance of brilliant physical comedy, giving just a hint of the voice and dance talent that emerges with the butterfly-like transformation at the end of the show.
Final mention must go to the whole ensemble, who work tirelessly to bring the fun classic to endless life. The audience reaction at the end of the show was thoroughly deserved.
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