Review: Hairspray, Newcastle Theatre Royal
We were welcomed to the city, temporarily set up at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, by Tracy Turnblad, the lovable underdog and heroine of our story - Hairspray.
Flash back to 1960’s America and here we are. An era where integration was, as Tracy informs us, the new frontier - and not everyone was sold on the idea.
In the audience we face this new world together along with Tracy, best friend Penny, supportive parents Edna and Wilbur and the cast of the Corny Collins show. "The nicest kids in town" and stars of the show include Amber Von Tussle (Gemma Lawson), the girl we love to hate, and heartthrob Link Larkin (Dan Partridge), the only boy Tracy has eyes for.
From the off, Hairspray is a fast-paced selection of catchy songs, polished dance routines and every sort of character you could wish for - the comic relief, the love interest and the villain. I’ll start with the former, because they’re my favourite every time.
Tracy, played brilliantly by Rosie O'Hare, may be our star and the show's saviour - but my jewels in the crown of this production go to her support network.
Every time someone asks me about Grease, I always make the time to herald Jan - my favourite of the Pink Ladies. She's not a cookie-cutter character but she's honest, endearing and a breath of fresh air in amongst the traditional characters.
Penny Pingleton is Hairspray's answer to Jan. A certain type of laugh is reserved for Penny's gags - and that's because there's a little bit of her in all of us. The supportive best friend, the doting daughter and (finally) the girl who finds exactly what she's been looking for in Seaweed (Shak Gabidon-Williams). Played fantastically and hilariously by Annalise Liard-Bailey, Penny made me giggle, cry, sigh and cheer all at once.
While we want to see a happy ending for most of our characters, it's particularly lovely to see one for Penny as I get the feeling she has spent a lot of time in Tracy's shadow, acting (gladly) as her biggest cheerleader.
Forget Link and Tracy - it's now time to talk about the real romance of this piece. The love between Mr and Mrs Turnblad.
Their humour, chemistry and affection is reminiscent of every happy couple you've ever met - and then some. And the chemistry between actors Matt Rixon (Edna) and Graham Macduff (Wilbur) is obviously just as strong.
When an on-stage gag went a little bit off-kilter, the pair seamlessly continued with the scene, laughing along and ad-libbing as (let's face it) only a married couple can.
You're Timeless To Me is my absolute favourite of Hairspray's musical numbers, and the extra sprinkling of fun provided by Mr and Mrs Turnblad was the cherry on top.
I left the theatre feeling all of Monday's cobwebs banished from my body - I'd sang, danced and clapped with the best of them. But the moral of Hairspray's story continues to stick with you, no matter how many times you've seen it.
First hitting stages on Broadway in 2002, Hairspray promotes an important message of tolerance and inclusion - and how the world changed for the better once people started to come aboard.
More than 55 years on from the story’s setting, and we still need to hear that message.
*Sing, dance and love along with the Hairspray cast at the Theatre Royal until Saturday, June 30.