Arriving in the West End after several successful years on Broadway (it was the 2003 Tony Award winner, and is still running) and a film version, this musical is itself a based on the cult 1988 John Waters film of the same name. I have to say that I enjoyed the original (non musical) film, but the film musical was a little too bland for my tastes (general early 60’s pop tunes that won’t scare anyone, composed by Marc Shaiman), the music certainly has its catchy moments, but I still needed some convincing. So seeing the stage version at long last was very interesting indeed; I undoubtedly enjoyed the music onstage more than hearing it in the film (as is generally the case with live music versus recorded in my experience), and it helps that the cast are bright, likeable and tuneful in person.
Hairspray is about an overweight teenage girl in 1962 Baltimore, and naturally she finds true calling (dancing), gets exactly what she wants (including national TV fame), and along the way accepts herself, whilst of course also bringing people together through her innate charm and chutzpah (breaking down segregationist barriers); basically this is a show aimed at every teenage girl who has felt in someway insecure about her looks or social standing (so that would be all of them then, not to mention nearly everyone else in the western world I). It is sort of a Wicked for teenagers who actually like musicals and not just utterly crass overblown spectacle (where the very idea of a fat leading lady would give the producers a heart attack. Actually do producers have hearts?), so at least Hairspray score marks on the ‘slightly less plastic than wicked’ front, but that isn’t really too difficult. This show however will appeal to a wider demographic than just the self empowering teens; it is absolutely right for a safe family audience, perfect for a trip to town to see a show. By all this you will have gathered that I don’t think Hairspray is one of the greats works of the dramatic stage, and it isn’t, but it does its job in entertaining people, providing some not unpleasant music and more than anything providing some wonderful character parts for Mr Michael Ball (as Edna Turnblad) and Mr Mel Smith (as her husband). In fact the whole cast is pretty good throughout. Ball as Edna is something of a shock, he has such a singular look in real life (actually I am referring to the artifice of the stage as ‘real life’, this being my main contact so far with Mr Ball, but I mean when not in drag as ‘real life’), that I actually didn’t realise that he was onstage at all for some minutes (and this is whilst he is singing), and this is with foreknowledge of his on stage transvestism and the character that he was playing, so it is quite a transformation into a large and common sense Baltimore housewife circa 1962. Leanne Jones as Tracy, the teen heroine, is marvellous and a newcomer to the professional stage. She is perfect for the irrepressible character of Tracy, and boy can she dance. The original Broadway director, Jack O’Brien, once again does the honours, and his production is slick but not lavish (sets by David Rockwell). I should credit Mr O’Brien, the cast and writers with some genuinely infectious moments, but not enough to sustain a level of joy that I can easily slip into during a great musical (at Guys and Dolls or Parade for example).
Hairspray is not emotionally insightful, socially important or infectiously joyful (for me anyway), but it is enjoyable, and a perfectly pleasant and undemanding way to spend an evening, the cast certainly make the show much more watchable than it easily could have been.
More to come...
I have to finish writing now in order to sleep, but I'll continue the round up later in the week with the likes of Vincent River, Statement of Regret, 42nd Street, Free Outgoing, The Arsonists, Cloud Nine, The Giant, The Brothers Size, Water and even King Tut at the Dome/The O2 Shopping Mall (aggh!).