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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Hairspray has blasted into Manchester as part of a year long UK tour, and is out to charm the regions as it charmed West End audiences for several years.

For those who don't know, this is the musical version of the 1988 cult film starring Ricki Lake and Divine. Set in 1962 Baltimore, the show tackles black segregation and also the obsession with image; however it does it in an enjoyable way with not an ounce of preaching. 

Tracy Turnblad, a chubby teenager, wants to achieve her ambition to sing and dance on the Corny Collins TV show despite the fact that she's quite a bit larger than the other performers. She wins her place on the show, but in her quest to use her fame to fight segregation, ends up in prison. With the help of her love interest, Link Larkin, she escapes to perform again on the TV show, this time for the viewers votes for Miss Teen Hairspray 1962.

Laurie Scarth makes an engaging Tracy. From belting out her opening number 'Good Morning Baltimore' through to the gentle version of the same number while in her jail cell, Scarth performs everything with equal skill. Link Larkin (Liam Doyle) is a good physical foil for her. He oozes charm and charisma without being smarmy.

Emma Dukes (Penny Piglington) and Wayne Robinson (Seaweed) also give excellent performances and the central characters are ably supported by a highly skilled ensemble. Notable are the Dynamites, who could put the Supremes to shame, and Sandra Marvin as Seaweed's mother Motormouth Maybelle: her blues style voice and incredible delivery in the number "I Know Where I've Been" bring the house down.

The real scene-stealers, though, are Michael Ball as Edna and Nigel Planer as Wilbur Turnblad. They share a chemistry that shines through the plot and both appear to be truly enjoying themselves, although the supposedly ad-libbed part in their duet "Timeless To Me" is a little too smooth to be truly impromptu.

Ball's over the top Edna is nicely countered by Planer's more subtle Wilbur. Ball himself simply embraces the part, and Edna is a hugely loveable character thanks mostly to his skill and comedic ability.

Jack O'Brien's direction keeps the show rattling along at a great pace without feeling rushed; with Jerry Mitchell's choreography beautifully evocative of the era.

The cast of Hairspray are correct. You cannot stop the beat, and to be honest given this show's energy, fun and feel-good factor, you really don't want to.

- Helen Jones

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