The Liverpool Empire has a sure-fire hit on its hands with a high energy production of the witty hit show Hairspray.

Local stars were out on the red carpet for a special Gala performance on Wednesday with Faith Brown, Pauline Daniels, Stan Boardman and stars of Hollyoaks and local footballers in the audience.

But the real stars were those on stage in this exuberant song and dance extravaganza where young teens stake their claim in overturning segregation of negroes in 1960s Baltimore, USA.

Michael Starke as the rumbustuous Edna Turnblad, the unhappy housewife turned diva, is a star turn with a superb American twang and over-the-top curvaceous characterisation. A much under-appreciated scouse asset he struts his stuff as though he was born to wear a dress and high heels!

Les Dennis, playing husband Wilbur Turnblad, usually a great crowd-pleaser, has a lesser role but comes into his own when the two do a hilarious duet singing ‘Timeless to Me’, and could barely keep his face straight when the two kiss – not once but twice – to howls of laughter from a home audience. Both Liverpool stars do their parts proud.

However, the plaudits must also go to understudy Dina Tree, standing in for the indisposed Laurie Scarth. As the plus-sized teen she ignores all the nasty remarks about her size and scholastic under-achieving from the ‘in crowd’ and forges the way for her black friends to integrate into the top-of-the-pops type Corny Collins Show which only has one night for negroes.

She feels this is unfair and that they should all dance together. She urges them to join her in protests and eventually manages, with their help, to win a Miss Hairspray contest, put on by television sponsors of the hit teen show, though finds herself and her friends in jail on the way. Tree as Tracy puts in a sterling performance and even manages to capture the heart of teen throb Link played with verve by Liam Doyle.

Brilliant performances in this musical with a message, also come from the sexy dancer Seaweed (Wayne Robinson), the geek turned vamp Penny Pingleton (Emma Dukes), and big momma Motormouth Maybelle (Sandra Marvin).

The sets are magnificent, the pace electric, the dancing outstanding, and the girls’ 60s full skirts and the slicked back hair of the boys brilliant. The glorious wigs are as high as they are camp – all adding to a show during which you find yourself with a permanent smile on your face! In fact the show uses 175 wigs and the cast gets through 80 cans of hairspray week – so the show is aptly named!

At the 2008 Olivier Awards, Hairspray won Best Musical, as well as Best Actor in a Musical for Michael Ball. The show has also won Best Musical at the Evening Standard Awards, the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers Choice awards, the Critics’ Circle Awards and the Variety Club Showbiz Awards.

This high-energy show is one that you should not miss at any costs!

- Jeanette Smith