Hairspray, Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company, Lichfield Garrick
Just occasionally, an amateur Musical Society can perfectly catch the zeitgeist of the spirit of a musical, injecting a zest and enthusiasm which breathes life into the original, taking it head to head with the best of professional productions. That is exactly what Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company have done with their presentation of “Hairspray”.
Serendipitously, the themes of casual racism and mistrust of immigrants are a feature of the UK EU referendum debate, and legislature corruption is prominent in the US presidential debate, capturing a contemporary dimension to the original screenplay. “Hairspray” focusses on the Integration debate in early 1960’s America, body image, and how outsiders fit into mainstream society. But this is no dour, didactic dirge. Instead it is a celebration of diversity, hope, and the talent that youth always has to offer both in the story, and in its physical manifestation on stage.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s adaptation of John Waters’ film for stage, first appearing on Brodway in 2002, is both glitzy and gutsy. Director Sally Baxter has managed to successfully tiptoe along the tightrope of delivering a show which musically fairly fizzles with high octane effervescence, whilst retaining the integrity of playing out a dramatization of the Civil Rights struggle in America. A brash, gaudy, set nicely reflects the time and place. Suzanne Harris and Tracey Firkins have had their work cut out as costume designers, and triumphed, to produce a riot of colour and flared dresses.
A large cast boasted twelve Society debutantes, in significant part, due to the need to secure an ethnically diverse cast. However no nervousness, or unfamiliarity, was evident, as one of those debutantes, Kitty Roberts, taking the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, blazed into the opening number “Good Morning Baltimore”, and never looked back. Kitty is superb in the role, offering a powerful vocal and a commanding stage presence. Yet she isn’t all front. Her love interest with Link Larkin is nuanced and believable, helped considerably by Adam Coulthards’ assured vocals and charisma.
Sally Jane Adams has the best dresses, and shows off the sharpest dance moves, as aspiring Miss Teenage Hairspray. Helen Gilfoyle, as her mother Velma Von Tussell, specialises in a withering glare that could turn milk sour, ostentatiously enjoying her role as villain of the show, and sings her solo with gusto too.
The musical score is fabulous featuring 1960s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues, played by a live ten piece band under the musical direction of Sheila Pearson. Not skimping on musicians by using a pre- recorded sound track makes such a difference. All the vocalists, without exception, rose to the occasion, none more so than Miss Motormouth (Marsha Webbe) whose spoken rhyming couplets morphed into a huge interpretation of signature ballad “ I Know Where I’ve Been”.
Tracy Turnblad’s parents have much fun as a comedy duo. Tony Orbell is all gangly arms and legs, while Mark Skett appears in drag. Both come together for a very well received duet, “You’re Timeless to Me”.
A compelling part of this show’s success is the choreography, by Maggie Doyle. There are no back line shirkers, the shapes and movement are a delight, and she shows commendable discipline in not flooding the stage with chorus unnecessarily. Inevitably, she works “You Can’t Stop the Beat” until it is wrung dry, and why not? It is a great song, with unusually satisfying lyrics, the performance of which demands, and receives, a deserved standing ovation at its close.
Delightful cameo’s abound. Anil Patel (Seaweed Stubbs) is a striking performer, as slender as a microphone stand, but with seemingly nuclear powered dancing energy. Playing opposite love interest , ugly duckling turned swan Chelsea Greathead ( Penny Pingleton), the two of them imbue their roles with comedy and poignancy. Little Inez (Equinana Givens) gives a big performance.
Amidst the infectious song and dance a witty, and occasionally risqué, script is brought to life by the cast. The didactic stays just the right side of cliché and platitude, “Follow your dreams” “The bigger your girth, the more you are worth”, the waspish amuses ,“ It pays to have a politician in your pocket and a polaroid in your safe”.
This is an ebullient slice of musical theatre, brim full of joie-de vivre, overflowing with energy, delivered with brio and elan guaranteed to entertain and delight all who wisely come to see the show which runs till Saturday 4th June.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands Theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.