THEATRE REVIEW: Hairspray at Milton Keynes Theatre
At a time when Donald Trump is doing everything he can to divide people in America, it was refreshing to watch a Broadway musical demonstrate a time when cultural barriers in the USA were being broken down rather than built up.
Currently showing at Milton Keynes Theatre, Hairspray is centred on the exploits of Tracy Turnblad (Freya Sutton), a charmingly naive teenager who becomes a surprisingly successful equal-rights campaigner for the black community in 1960s Baltimore.
Bursting on to the stage with an energetic rendition of Good Morning Baltimore, the larger-than-average youngster shows a sprightly fleet of foot and reveals her endearingly positive world view that cheerfully excuses the existence of rats and flashers on her walk to school.
The action moves swiftly on to the set of the Corny Collins Show where the ‘council member’ dancers, dressed in orange, green and purple costumes, perform a deftly choreographed jive across the stage.
The infectious energy of the show is maintained throughout a long first half (90 minutes) and the breezy, frivolous tone is counterbalanced by some cutting, satirical dialogue revealing the narrow-minded, racist opinions of TV producer Velma Von Tussle and her conceited daughter Amber.
One particularly entertaining part of the show is watching Von Tussle, played by Claire Sweeney, roam through the audience appearing to have a nervous breakdown at the sight of black dancers on the Corny Collins Show.
As someone who played the part of Tracy during Hairspray’s last UK tour, Sutton is also a highlight; infusing her character with a likeable energy and comic timing.
Perhaps the best vocal performance of the night was Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Maybelle) who belts out the lyrics to the Martin Luther King-inspired song I know Where I’ve Been, which “dreams of a future” and a “struggle to be won”.
As someone who had never seen Hairspray before, I was pleasantly surprised by its thought-provoking, political edge.
As well as race relations, the musical also provides strong messages about women’s role in society and the importance of accepting that people come in all different shapes and sizes.
The only criticism of the show would be the fact the energy slightly dips in the second half as Ednar (a cross dressing Matt Rixon) and Wilbur Turnbald (former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan) indulge in a melodramatic, over-long rendition of You’re Timeless To Me.
But this aberration is more than made up for by the magnificent closing numbers that brought a standing ovation from the crowd.
Anyone who sees this show cannot go away without feeling uplifted and in support of “integration not separation.”
Perhaps Donald Trump should be made to watch it.
Hairspray is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, April 9. To book tickets go to www.atgtickets.com
For more information go to www.hairsprayuktour.com