It's fair to say Hairspray is a phenomenon. From its humble origins as a John Waters movie that spawned a big budget Broadway musical that spawned an even bigger budget movie remake, the tale of the Baltimore Turnblads, the teen favourite music show and racial integration has been an international success story.
As part of its UK tour, it has settled for a two week run at Bristol's Hippodrome and will certainly continue to be the crowd pleasing ‘feel-good' production that all the publicity promises. Having such a rich history also means expectations are high. With this production, the end results are almost all way off the mark.
With a historic base focusing on racial integration, there is a real heart and soul at the centre of the story with some genuinely touching moments as well as laugh out loud sections and a heart thumping soundtrack. What we are faced with in this production, however, is broad brush stroke direction, some grotesque caricature and an evening that relies on the music whilst showing the door to the heart and soul.
There are some welcome highlights. Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle is a diva in the true sense of the word. With a heart stopping voice and a powerhouse performance, she is worth the admission price alone. Added to which, Adrian Hansel's joyous performance as Seaweed J Stubbs is a delight to watch.
Aside from Marvin and Hansel, the rest of the production felt like a high budget pantomime with the worst offender being Mark Benton's corpsing Edna Turnblad. Whilst the conceit of the story is clear for all to see, the man in a fat suit dressed as a woman has always been played for truth and as a result, the idea has been sold. Here, with too much license given, Benton mugs his way through the show like a Panto Dame and misses the beauty and vulnerability of the character that hasn't been out in ten years, has genuine love for her husband and finds a new zest for life. The beautiful "Timeless to Me" was cheapened to within an inch of its life and resulted in shameless corpsing from the two actors. Even the villainous Von Tussles were played like the Ugly Sisters.
Again, this is a crowd pleaser and will continue to succeed. However with high ticket prices and big budgets, Christmas has come early in more ways than one but audiences deserve more than mediocrity.
- Shane Morgan
Hairspray continues at Bristol Hippodrome until 17 August 2013