Just a few days after closing in the West End, Hairspray has already embarked on its first national tour of the UK, opening its run at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. With an almost new cast the show has lost none of its effervescent exuberance and fully justified the standing ovation it received. This is not just due to Michael Ball’s return to the role of Edna Turnblad, but also to wonderful array of characters led by Laurie Scarth, as Tracy, who is full of energy, warmth and cheerful optimism.
The story takes us back to Baltimore in the early 1960s, where Tracy Turnblad is obsessed by the Corny Collins Television Show. She aspires to be one of the ‘nicest kids in town’ who dance on the show, or even to become ‘Miss Teenage Hairspray’. But, as her mother Edna says “girls of her size” don’t get chosen. However, Tracy has boundless energy and determination - she gets selected and then sets her eyes on removing racial inequality and segregation on the show. Having persuaded her mother to leave her apartment for the first time in 20 years, she sets out with the help of her detention class and her delightfully goofy best friend Penny.
With the TV viewers voting for Miss Teenage Hairspray, perhaps it is fitting that Link Larkin, Tracy’s idol and aspiring pop star, is played by Liam Doyle, who was voted by GMTV viewers as the Troy Bolton for High School Musical 2. He dances and sings well and plays the role in a charming boyish way, but perhaps without the arrogance required.
There is no doubt, however, that the female characters of the show take the highlights. The awkward Penny is played delightfully by Emma Dukes and the acerbic roles of Amber and her mother Velma by Clare Halse and Gillian Kirkpatrick. Most notable, though, is Sandra Marvin, reprising her West End role of Motormouth Maybelle, and steals the show with the anthem ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’. This is just one of many showstopping songs in the wonderful score.
Michael Ball fits back into Edna’s padding and frock as comfortably as putting on a pair of slippers. He appears so relaxed in the role and his comedy acting is an absolute delight. With Les Dennis as his on-stage husband they milk their ‘Timeless to Me’ number for every drop of humour that they can.
As the start of a long tour - already booking for the next 12 months -, the ensemble will become even more slick as the tour continues to entertain around the country. It really is a wonderful opportunity for regional audiences to see this multi-award winning West End show in all its glory.
Hairspray plays Cardiff until 24 April, then tours, returning to Southampton 11 to 29 May and Plymouth 03 to 14 August.