Review: Hairspray The Musical

A friend once deemed ‘Hairspray’ as his favourite musical after seeing the West End production starring a well-padded Michael Ball in the role of agoraphobic washer-women Edna Turnblad, mother of her equally overweight daughter, Tracy.

Tuesday, 2nd April 2013, 10:51 am
Hairspray the Musical
Hairspray the Musical

And while versatile comedy actor Mark Benton obviously didn’t need the same amount of padding or quite match Ball’s vocal performances in the role at Milton Keynes Theatre on Bank Holiday Monday’s opening night, the cheeky rotund Waterloo Road star (he played Mr ‘Chalky’ Chalk) really threw himself into the part and thoroughly deserved a standing ovation … as did the rest of the cast.

Benton’s show-stopping number ‘Timeless To Me’ sung with ‘husband’ Wilbur Turnblad (Paul Rider) really brought the house down following a quick peck which also appeared to have the mis-matched but lovestruck couple in stitches.

The show actually centres around their daughter, tubby Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad. She is brilliantly played by newcomer Freya Sutton whose vocal performance marks her as one to watch and, come the final curtain call, the audience had been completely won over.

The overweight teenager’s only desire in life is to dance on a nightly hair product-sponsored television programme, The Corny Collins Show. It would allow her to fit in with some of the good looking pupils chosen from her High School and would get her closer to her heart throb, would-be singing star Link Larkin (Luke Stiffler).

Tracy’s other ambition is that one day she can bring together the Baltimore community by including black teenagers in the show as she feels it’s unfair having a separate ‘Negro Night’.

With one teenager girl thrown off the show after she became pregnant, the opening comes for Tracy although the big stumbling block at the audition and to actually get on The Corny Collins Show is organiser Velma Von Tussle brilliantly played by former EastEnder, Lucy Benjamin.

Collins (Josh Piterman) himself is won over by her, but Velma and her pretty (but catty) daughter, Amber Von Tussle (Gemma Sutton), do their best to obstruct Tracy’s chance. Fortunately they fail and the big haired Turnblad youngster becomes an immediate television smash.

Numbers like ‘Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now’ and ‘Nicest Kids in Town’ keep the feet tapping while Tracy’s meeting up with Seaweed J Stubbs (X-Factor runner-up Marcus Collins) and his mum Motormouth Maybelle (Sandra Marvin) finally bring the two communities together.

However the entire cast do end up in jail after the white kids make a stand and wave banners in a bid to mix with the black youngsters at the television studios.

The jail sequence is cleverly worked with a comedic performance from prison warder (Wendy Somerville), although joke shop owner Wilbur manages to post bail for everyone – except his daughter Tracy!

Fortunately Link Larkin manages to break her out in time to get to the finals of the Miss Hairspray dance competition where her closest rival for public television votes is Amber.

From the opening number ‘Baltimore’ to its rousing finale, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’, Hairspray The Musical is a colourful, feel-good evening out.

Mark Benton seems to stamp his mark on any role he plays from serious Shakespeare to out and out comedy. As Edna Turnblad he is absolutely brilliant.

However there were other exceptional performance, namely from Tracy’s closest friend Penny Pingleton (Lauren Hood) and her mum Mrs Pingleton (Wendy Somerville) who also doubled up as the Dodgeball coach and the female prison warden. She had some cracking one-liners and even sprang a surprise on one unsuspecting member of the audience just before the finale!

The choreography, lighting, colourful costumes and clever sets make this a must-see show. It is packed full of catchy numbers, big hair and even bigger egos while Marc Shaiman’s original musical score has deservedly won numerous awards since it first hit the London stage back in October 2007.

Hairspray The Musical embarked on a UK tour three years later and while it has previously played in Milton Keynes, this popular musical is all set to become another week-long sell-out.

It runs until this Saturday (April 6) with evening shows at 7.30pm while there are matinee performances tomorrow (Wednesday) and Saturday, both at 2.30pm. Tickets are priced from £15 to £45 and are available from the box office on 0844 871 7652 (booking fees apply).