A Monday night in the Highlands of Scotland, and yet the Empire Theatre, the largest space in Eden Court, is almost full to bursting. There isn’t an empty seat in the stalls, and the clientele is decidedly younger than customary for a night at the theatre in these parts.
But this is Hairspray – toe-tapping, head-nodding, finger-clicking, hip-swaying Hairspray – the musical with the catchy tunes and the bright lights.
From the first beat, the audience are drawn into the bright world of 1960 Baltimore. But on closer inspection, the programme watched on every family’s screen is bland – everybody featured in the iconic Corny Collins Show is white, middle class, and crucially, slim.
Enter Tracy Turnblad, the oversize heroine with a big heart who secures her place in the dance squad of show, wins the love of heart throb Link Larkin and ensures that Hairspray is a celebration of diversity.
The opening number ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ might be the best known song of the musical, but thrills with its nifty choreography featuring authentic costumes, men in suits with briefcases and newspapers – and surprisingly effective remote-control rats. Due to the large numbers of performers in the ensemble (a cast 30 strong), set is largely limited to flats and platforms, but the lighting design steals the show more than once, be it the ever-shrinking magic in ‘I Can Hear The Bells’ or the harsh patterns which create the penitentiary for the visually striking ‘The Big Dollhouse’.
Number after number, the choreography dazzles – and a Highland crowd is not easily wowed! Similarly, there is no weak link in the vocal performances: Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle brings an Aretha Franklin quality which sends shivers up the spine, Rebecca Mendoza stays sure-footed throughout as Tracy, Gina Murray creates a memorable villain in Velma van Tussle and Corny Collins comes alive in the hands of the excellent John Tsouras.
However, Layton Williams is perhaps the most exciting young talent to watch. As lovable rogue Seaweed, he acts with conviction and performs gravity-defying acrobatics while hitting every note with ease. A most watchable all-round performer who looks like he is loving every second on stage!
Nevertheless, the audience favourites were clearly Tracy’s parents, played by the cross-dressed Matt Rixon and Norman Pace. The script delivers plenty of comedy for the pair, and for the most part they make good use of it, although there is a slightly awkward break of character during ‘You’re Timeless To Me’ which in no way compromises the audience’s enjoyment of the moment. If anything, the whooping is louder to will them on.
As if the Eden Court crowd had needed persuading, stage pyrotechnics seal the deal. The reluctant Highlanders are clapping, jigging and grooving in the aisles. An auditorium-wide standing ovation to the final ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ seems a fitting send-off to a cast that have given it everything, and are going to do so again as they tour the country.
Not everyone loves musicals. But those who do will LOVE this production of Hairspray. Run and tell that!