Hairspray

Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan; music by Marc Shaiman; lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Mark Goucher Productions
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Hairspray

Fabulous fun and towering beehives mix with rebellion against 1962 Baltimore bigotry and segregation as Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical Hairspray launches its post-lockdown UK and Ireland tour.

It’s an odd recipe but one which surprisingly works as the hard-hitting message is served up with a good side helping of teenage angst, heartthrobs, fatism and tasty tunes by Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics).

John Waters’s 1988 film is brought to stage in a kaleidoscope of vibrant polyester and pantomimic largesse with Paul Kerryson’s direction pacy or poignant and Drew McOnie’s choreography swinging from gusto-packed, piston-armed stomping to sexy, sinewy sashays and shimmies (with Josh Nkemdilim particularly eye-catching).

Katie Brace makes her stage debut as starstruck pants-folder-turned-militant Tracy Turnblad. Feisty, frothy and bold, the plus-size school rebel is on a mission to dance her way to TV stardom and en route snags her man and strikes a hefty blow for integration (via a swift arrest).

West End stalwart (Annie, Mamma Mia) Alex Bourne is mum Edna, abandoning her ironing board to protest racism. Her duet "You’re Timeless To Me" with diminutive husband Wilbur (returning to the role Norman Pace of Hale and Pace, Chicago, Rocky Horror) sweet, beautifully timed and a definite highlight.

Lothario Seaweed is the snake-hipped Akeem Ellis-Hyman who can undoubtedly strut all his stuff while X-Factor finalist and Loose Woman Brenda Edwards (Chicago, Rock of Ages) is on song and on point as his sassy mother Motormouth Maybelle and Rebecca Thornhill is the wonderfully manipulative, arrogant and nasty bigot Velma Von Tussle.

Ben Atkinson directs the tremendous on-stage band as it romps through Shaiman’s poppy score while Corny Collins (Richard Meek) leads his dancers through early 1960s adolescent joie de vivre and feel-good hoofing.

With social distancing, there may not be dancing in the aisles, but the seats are a-rocking.

An energetic, feel-good, welcome return.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell