Review: You can't stop the beat as big-hearted Hairspray dazzles on Northampton stage

Anna Brosnan reviews Hairspray at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

By Peter Ormerod
Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 10:06 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 2:20 pm
'Hairspray could be dismissed as a throwaway piece of theatrical glitter but the heart of this musical stops that from happening'
'Hairspray could be dismissed as a throwaway piece of theatrical glitter but the heart of this musical stops that from happening'

It’s Baltimore, USA. The 1960s are in full psychedelic flow. The hair is high and the tolerance of racial integration is pretty low.

This sets the scene for arguably one of the most successful musicals in the history of theatre – Hairspray, which hit the Derngate stage in Northampton this week.

With its neon A-line costumes, pounding dance numbers and cheeky main character, Hairspray could be dismissed as a throwaway piece of theatrical glitter in itself. But the heart of this musical stops that from happening.

'Some very funny moments': Norman Pace as Wilbur and Katie Brace as Tracy

Centred around an unconquerable heroine in the cruelly scorned shape of Tracy Turnblad, the story explores her fight to become recognised as a national TV dancer, despite standing out amid the slim line-up of teen stars.

Along the way, Tracy takes on a much bigger fight, namely racial segregation, as she battles to have her white and black friends simply seen as young people who want to dance together and just have a good time.

Like many Hairspray audience members, I have seen the show once or twice and this latest production is just as entertaining and brilliantly performed as any I have seen before.

I read that this is the professional debut of actress Katie Brace, who plays the effervescent Tracy. Judging by the star quality of her performance, I think she has a great acting career ahead of her.

Other striking performances were delivered by Reece Richards as Seaweed, whose brilliant acting and dancing made him a charismatic presence on stage, notably in numbers such as Run and Tell That.

Brenda Edwards showed herself to be a vocal powerhouse as Motormouth Maybelle and Alex Bourne’s on-stage chemistry as Edna, alongside Norman Pace’s Wilbur, made for some very funny moments.

Far from stiff and starchy, Hairspray has a really worthy moral message about equality but you can’t stop the beat of its other main purpose - making audiences smile.

* Hairspray runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday February 5. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.