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BrumHour was invited to see Hairspray at the invitation of Birmingham Hippodrome.
By Becky Kroon twitter.com/BeckyKroon
Review: Hairspray at Birmingham Hippodrome
Directed by Paul Kerryson, Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman based on Hairspray by John Waters
Set in the United States in 1962 Baltimore, Hairspray’s narrative centres around inclusivity and diversity in mainstream media, following main character Tracey Turnblad’s quest to integrate black performers into The Corney Collins Show, Baltimore’s popular dance and variety television show. The minimalist set drew attention to the use of AV projections as a backdrop, using footage of Martin Luther King Jr and anti-segregation protests from the 1960s to mirror the onstage protests for equal opportunities for black people.
Mark Goucher and Matthew Gale’s production of Hairspray welcomed me back to the theatre with open arms after nearly two years of absence. Being back in the Birmingham Hippodrome’s packed-out theatre created an infectious atmosphere, with the energy of both the audience and the cast reinforcing the irreplaceability of live performance as we are coming out of Covid-19 restrictions.
I found it hard not to relate the message behind Hairspray to black representation in our own contemporary film and television. Michaela Coel being the first black female to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series was the cultural highlight of the year for me. Yet, the poignancy through watching the cast sing I Know Where I’ve Been in the second act emphasised how more needs to be done for black representation in the entertainment industry, in which the emotivity shown through this number stood out as a highlight of the night.
Other highlights included Alex Bourne and Norman Price as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, who proved obvious crowd-pleasers. Their physical comedy and innuendos during You’re Timeless To Me were cheeky but extremely endearing. It proved to be a popular moment of the night with the audience’s cheering leading to Bourne and Price corpsing themselves, adding to the humour of the number. An honourable mention also has to go to leading lady Katie Brace (Tracy Turnblad), whose brilliant comedic timing set the energy for the rest of the performance.
Overall, Hairspray was a great reintroduction to musical theatre, providing the perfect balance of the glitz and glamour of a musical alongside an important message to take from it. The invitation to dance at the end of the bows, along with the band exposed on stage instead of in the orchestra pit, added to the sense of community when watching theatre that I didn’t realise how much I missed until then.
You can catch Hairspray at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 2nd October. The UK and Northern Ireland Tour currently continues until 2nd April 2022. See the tour website here: hairsprayuktour.com/tour-dates.