“’Cause just to sit still would be a sin”
For the longest time, I resisted the charms of Hairspray both on screen and on stage. It was only my niece and nephew falling in love with the 2007 film and making me watch it with them and made me realise how much fun it is and just how tuneful Marc Shaiman’s score manages to be. So having missed the boat with the West End version (and resisted the temptation to see its seemingly never-ending touring incarnation), I was most pleased to see that Paul Kerryson was creating his own interpretation for the Curve, especially given how successfully Chicago had been reinvented there over Christmas.
And it appears that lightning really can strike twice. Kerryson clearly has the knack for reconceiving large scale musicals for this Leicester stage and focusing on the qualities that make them so successful and here, in that respect, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book captures a crucial moment in US civil rights history but one with an enduringly powerful message in how societal pressure can result in lasting change when focused through the right media channel. And Lee Proud’s wonderfully expansive choreography educates as well as entertains, speaking volumes about the changing ways in which we interact.
Then there is that score. Quite how I managed to let it pass me by for so long I do not know, but jewels like ‘I Can Hear The Bells’, ‘Good Morning Baltimore’, ‘Motormouth Maybelle’ and the insistent ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ are here to stay. And they’re performed by a hugely enthusiastic cast who fill Paul Moore’s simple set design with a joyous energy. Rebecca Craven’s Tracy is an adorable explosion of activism and ardour; Damian Williams and John Barr as parents Edna and Wilbur are cute as buttons; Sophie-Louise Dann and Vicki Lee Taylor slink with determined ambition as the uber-white Von Tussles; from top to bottom, this was an excellent cast.
It emerges as an ultimate finger-clicking, foot-tapping feel-good show, and to criticise it for not capturing the tone of the original 1988 film seems to me to be focusing on the wrong thing. The darker tone of John Waters’ work, even Waters attempting to create something mainstream, is not what is really being celebrated here on the stage. It is something simpler, more straight-forward – but no less moving, especially when Claudia Kariuki’s Motormouth brings down the house with ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ – which is captured perfectly in the ebullience of this cracking piece of musical theatre.