With the musical having gained magnificent critical acclaim in the West End and being a huge fan of the movie, I was excited to see how the show weighed up as a touring production. There were, of course, fears that it would not live up to expectations. Following Michael Ball – or indeed John Travolta - as Edna Turnblad is, after all, quite an ask of any actor.
My concerns could not have been more misplaced. A feel-good spectacle of powerful harmonies and explosive dance moves, leave you in mashed potato heaven. The show appears to retain all of the quirks and values of the West End; and boasts a superb chorus and lead cast including Eastenders’ actress, Lucy Benjamin as the beautifully crooked and bitter Velma Von Tussle.
Set in the traditionalist city of Baltimore, the granddaughter of a suffragette shuffles her feet and taps her fingers, waiting for the moment to express herself. Little does she know what a revolution she is about to begin. Helped along the way by a fantastic chorus line, exciting dance moves and an array of bold and daring costumes, Freya Sutton, as Tracy Turnblad does a fantastic job of portraying an ambitious teenage girl, who will stop at nothing for justice.
From human puppetry, to tap routines, the dancing is spot on. The cast’s timing could not be more accurate, especially in routines such as the stop, don’t, no’s of ‘Mama I’m a big girl now’ and the upbeat moves of ‘Don’t Stop the Beat’.
The set is as fabulous. Adapted from the West end to fit the Mayflower, the production uses a range of staging techniques, from simple platforms to identify split scenes to a huge hair shaped wooden curtain for the Corny Collins show. There is even a giant hairspray can that spouts glittering streamers in to the audience during the finale.
Commendable performances come from the entire cast, however award for best comical performance is a toss-up between the hilarious drag act by Mark Benton, as Edna, or Wendy Somerville, who reprises her West End role as the female authority figure. Whether she’s being the uptight, conservative Mrs Pingleton, the perverted female prison warden, or the equally ‘lonely’ Dodgeball coach, she leaves the audience rolling in the aisles.
As predicted, Luke Stiffler as Link Larkin has the young women in the audience swooning, though there is tough competition with the likes of Marcus Collins on stage. The x-factor singer is simply remarkable. His range and vocal depth blows the audience away, showcasing some of the greatest vocal dexterity I have ever encountered during tunes such as ‘Run and Tell That’. Equally phenomenal is the powerhouse of a woman, Sandra Marvin, as MotorMouth Maybell. Her powerful performance of ‘I know where I’ve been’ leaves you with goose bumps and truly makes the show.
It isn’t just the cast that stands out. The music is supreme and has the audience boogying away in their seats. After the interval the orchestra’s conductor entertains with air trombone and guitar skills, gearing the crowd up for the second act. This half may be shorter but is definitely no less outstanding. If possible, the costumes get even more ludicrously brilliant. The hair-dos displayed in the Miss Hairspray 1962 company are more akin to Mickey Mouse ears or a toy poodle than hair I’ve ever seen.
Even after all the talk of talent, costumes and dancing my favourite thing about the entire production is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. At times things go wrong, such as the microphones failing on a couple of occasions, but this seems nothing major when you are enjoying yourself so much. Towards the end of Wilbur and Edna Turnblad’s whimsical duet ‘Timeless to me’, Mark Benton corpses sending the audience in to fits of laughter with a witty reference to a running theme within the show. Whilst gathering himself an audience member heckles “Just give ‘im one” converting the musical in to a pantomime and sending the actor off in to another fit of giggles. If this had happened in Phantom, or Cats, it would detract from the performance but the sharp remarks only enhance Benton’s performance, as is evident when he receives biggest cheer of the night.
With the use of words like ‘poluka’ to a ream of innuendos, the show screams stage presence and the sound from the cast is one like no other. If you’re in to camp, comic and truly uplifting shows, this is the one for you. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll come away singing ‘(Hey Mama) Welcome to the 60’s’ on repeat all the way home.