You’ll know Hairspray even if you don’t know it. The show floods the Devonshire Park Theatre this week with its cascade of recognisable musical numbers. Good Morning, Baltimore - I can Hear the Bells - You Can’t Stop the Beat. And you honestly can’t.
Hairspray is set in a 1962 timewarp, but it is timeless, riven with social comment still relevant today, and bubbling with the passionate, exuberant idealism of youth.
Written in 1988 but perennially popular ever since, the show is a slightly odd hybrid: old-fashioned Sixties setting with young lovers and schmaltz, glorious singing, exuberant movement, pantomime humour, and a passionate moral and social message.
A huge cast gives every ounce. Tracey herself is a funny, endearing and bold Rosie O’Hare with just enough naivety. A dashing Dan Partridge is Link Larkin, the target of her amorous intent, while her rival Amber Von Tussle was on Monday night flawlessly played by understudy Kirsty Ingram – a sign of the company’s strength in depth.
The characterisations are not exactly written for depth, but no matter. Lucinda Lawrence, with just a hint of Cruella, gets the best out of Velma Von Tussle, while Matt Rixon’s Edna Turnblad trumps any pantomime dame alongside husband and foil Graham MacDuff, bringing the house down as they milk every line.
Handsome as a young Obama, Shak Gabbidon-Williams moves and sings superbly, and embraces both the pivotal Seaweed role and the seminal cause of de-segregation – and of banishing the absurdity of Negro Day. Opposite him, Annalise Liard-Bailey is a delightful Penny.
Simply, this explosive production fizzes and dazzles like a lighted match in a whole box of fireworks. And half-way through Act Two, when you think the young cast must be physically drained, Brenda Edwards’ Motormouth takes the whole theatre by the throat with an astonishing, unchained delivery of the torch song I Know Where I’ve Been. Yes, Brenda, we know, and we share that triumphant message and the torch that theatre carries for it. At the stomping, swirling, blinding finale, the audience was on its feet. The sedate old Devvy Park doesn’t do standing ovations. They did this time.