It’s 1962 in Baltimore, a time of cheerful dancing and colourful talent shows on TV, in black and white of course. Pre-civil rights black and white is the other theme of Hairspray. Tracy, plump and innocent, wants to win the talent show and integrate her favourite dancers into the show. They happen to be black which doesn’t matter a jot to her.
That the kitsch and the serious colour issue mix so well is a strength of both the musical and of Anthony Williams’ always exuberant, carefully judged direction.
Andrew Agnew is effective but somewhat self-effacing as Tracy’s mum, Edna, and never dominating. This allows the show to firmly focus on Tracy, and Jenny O’Leary, only recently graduated, is outstanding. When dancing her toes really seem to twinkle. She oozes innocence and charm without it ever becoming cloying. She sings very well, she’s a dab hand with the comedy and we totally believe in Tracy’s sincerity.
She also holds her own with Lori Haley Fox’s rigidly prejudiced Velma Von Tussle, a dictatorial TV producer. She, and simpering daughter Amber (Beth Angharad), make a wonderfully dislikeable double act.
Also excellent are Morgan Crowley’s dottily devoted dad, Samantha Giffard’s loyal best friend Penny and Marion Campbell’s powerful Motormouth,
It’s a big cast, all of whom contribute mightily to the vibrant, stylised early 1960s ambiance, particularly their wondrously, gleamingly optimistic grins.
The terrific band are enclosed in giant transparent hairsprays on either side of the stage. It’s a wow of a feel-good show.