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Hairspray review at Leicester Curve – ‘fresh and vivid’

Brenda Edwards in Hairspray at Leicester Curve. Photo: Ellie Kurttz Brenda Edwards in Hairspray at Leicester Curve. Photo: Ellie Kurttz
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Hairspray was turned from a cult 1988 film to a Tony-winning Broadway musical in 2002 and then back again into a film, this time with songs, in 2007. Now it travels full circle to the stage to go on the road again for a tour that has already been booked a year ahead. As the biggest showstopper in a show full of them has it, You Can’t Stop the Beat (let alone “the motion of the ocean, or the sun in the sky”).

Not that you’ll want to as director Paul Kerryson, his witty choreographer Drew McOnie and musical director Ben Atkinson charge it up with unstoppable energy and a never-wearying sense of exhilaration. Set in 1962 Baltimore, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s irrepressible pastiche period score already feels like a classic, in a direct line of succession from Grease and Little Shop of Horrors, but that bubbles and fizzes with its own blissfully tuneful momentum.

But it’s also a Trojan horse of a musical for a powerful message about racial integration in a ’60s pop TV show — a theme subsequently appropriated by Memphis, also currently imported from Broadway to the Shaftesbury Theatre, the same West End theatre that Hairspray coincidentally originally played at.

There’s also an affectingly loving portrait of a dysfunctional family at the centre of it, presided over by a monumental matriarch Edna Turnblad (Tony Maudsley, channelling Harvey Fierstein who originated the role on stage), who takes in other people’s laundry for a living. But the far dirtier laundry of prejudice is wonderfully washed away by her bright, bouncy daughter Tracy (a delightful Freya Sutton), as she expresses a desire for every day to be Negro day in TV variety (to which the deadpan script has one of the black kids Seaweed reply, “At our house, it is.”

This production delivers full West End values and powerhouse performances all around, with some particularly affecting and effective work in the supporting roles: Peter Duncan is a marvel as Edna’s devoted husband Wilbur, and Brenda Edwards belts powerfully as the appropriately named Motormouth Maybelle. The dance chorus also stands out for its supreme athleticism and tight discipline.

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A wonderfully fresh and vivid production of the popular Broadway show that gives it a brand new touring life