Hairspray at New Theatre, Cardiff – review


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Thank you to the New Theatre for providing us with press tickets to review Hairspray

Having entertained theatre audiences for more than 20 years, smash hit musical Hairspray is back in Cardiff for a week-long run as part of its UK tour. I took my seven year old youngest child along to last night’s press performance at the New Theatre, and what an uplifting, energetic and colourful evening it was. It was my third time seeing the stage show (and I have loved it just as much each time), but the first for my youngest, although he’s familiar with the film and the soundtrack.

Based on the 1988 film starring Ricki Lake, Hairspray the musical opened to critical acclaim on Broadway in 2002, winning eight Tony Awards, before heading to London in 2007, where it bagged four Olivier Awards. It has since entertained audiences in theatres around the world with a film version starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron in 2007 adding to its enduring appeal.

Set in Baltimore in 1962, Hairspray is full of upbeat and catchy songs, wonderfully vibrant costumes and staging, and energetic dance numbers. But it’s a production with an important message too. Against the odds because she doesn’t look the part, Tracy Turnblad lands a role dancing on her favourite TV programme, The Corny Collins Show, and uses her new-found fame to fight for integration of black and white dancers on the show, putting her own future at risk for what she believes in.

Katie Brace is utterly brilliant in the lead role. She is such a confident performer with strong vocals and boundless energy. She adds a lot of humour to the part and has a really likeable quality about her. It was a surprise to read in the programme notes that this is her professional theatrical debut. She is absolutely perfect as the big-haired lead character and more than holds her own amid the more experienced cast members.

Edna Turnblad is a role traditionally played by a male performer (John Travolta stars in the film) and tonight we have West End stalwart Alex Bourne, with Norman Pace (of Hale and Pace fame) as husband/Tracy’s dad Wilbur. The two have a brilliant rapport together with their duet You’re Timeless To Me leaving the audience crying with laughter due to its subtle inuendo and cheeky moments, a lot of which, thankfully, went over my seven-year-old’s head.

Brenda Edwards, an established West End performer also known for appearing on X Factor and Loose Women, is Motormouth Maybelle, mother of young dancers Seaweed and Little Inez, owner of a downtown record store, and host of The Corny Collins Show’s once-monthly Negro Day. Her vocal number Big, Blonde and Beautiful is sassy and empowering while the way she belts out the high notes in the soulful ballad I Know Where I’ve Been elicits a collective wow in the press seats.

Other strong performances come from Rebecca Thornhill and Jessica Croll as mother-daughter duo Velma and Amber Von Tussle, the Barbie-esque baddies of the show who try to thwart Tracy at every opportunity, as well as Reece Richards as Seaweed for his superb dance skills, the affable Rebecca Jayne-Davies as Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingleton, Ross Clifton as Link Larkin and Richard Meek as Corny Collins. There’s a strong ensemble in this show, who fill the stage with their bright costumes and coordinated musical numbers.

I’d say it’s suitable for ages 5/6 and above, and perfect for all ages. Hairspray is such a fun and vibrant show delivering an important message of inclusivity and integration though memorable musical numbers that you’ll be singing all the way home.

Hairspray is at New Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday 19 February 2022, with tickets still available for some performances. Prices start from £22. For more information or to book online visit the New Theatre website here.

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