You may be forgiven immediately asking who Michael Starke is, but anyone who caught him in the tour of Anything Goes a few years back knows this performer can lead a musical. Leaving his days as window cleaner Sinbad in TVs Brookside, Ken Hopkirk in The Royal and Jerry Morton in Coronation Street far behind, he grabs the role of Edna Turnblad by the throat.
However, during this tour the role of Edna will not only be played by Starke but also by Michael Ball (who created the West End Edna) and Brian Conley, but it is hard to imagine either could bring the role more to life than Starke.
His on stage husband, Wilbur, is played by Les Dennis (Mickey Dolenz and Nigel Planer also play the role during tour) and the pair have great chemistry. Of the other leads Sandra Marvin literally stops the show when her character Motormouth Maybelle, (a role she played in the West End production) sings "I Know Where I’ve Been" and Laurie Scarth is our heroine, Tracy Turnblad.
The musical was given prominence by the recent film version starring John Travolta as Edna, but the energy commanded by the stage version gives the musical a true heart that is missing from the screen adaptation.
Hairspray can be viewed as the 1960s version of the other Travolta monster movie smash Grease, which was set a decade earlier in the 50s. But this time the story revolves around the segregation of black people and overweight girls, but as we tap our feet and clap our hands to the tremendous score, we know it will turn out alright in the end.
Set in Baltimore in 1962, we follow Tracy Turnblad in her fight against the segregation which stops young black and white adolescents dancing together on the hit Corny Collins TV show. Producer and panto style villain Velma Von Tussle (Gillian Kirkpatrick) says Tracy is too overweight to dance and as producer of the TV show she only gives thin, white boys and girls a chance at fame. So Tracy embarks on a quest for justice and winning the all-important role of Miss Teenage Hairspray.
Regardless of knowing the story or being familiar with the musical numbers this is a feel good, foot tapping show which is a delight to watch. From the opening number of "Good Morning Baltimore" to the finale "You Can’t Stop the Beat" this show does not put a foot wrong and is pure entertainment.
But the real star is Michael Starke and his performance as Edna firmly marks his place as one of the leading men in musical theatre today.