Hairspray at London Coliseum
Since bursting the stage in 2002, Hairspray has remained a firm favourite amongst theatregoers – and for good reason. The all-singing, all-dancing hit, with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, is an unflinchingly entertaining story about overcoming adversity and doing the right thing. Set in 1960s Baltimore, Hairspray follows the story of Tracy Turnblad, a girl whose unlikely stardom enables her to join the fight against segregation. With decades of tours (and a beloved film release), it’s easy to presume that a new production of Hairspray will fail to do anything unique, but last night’s performance at London Coliseum proves this to be false. In fact, the new production, directed by Jack O’Brien, is nothing short of groundbreaking.
From the moment the audience “heard the bells”, and the music started, the highly talented ensemble transported them back into the 60s – where big hair and big characters ruled the stage, and 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad is ready to change the world (and dance her socks off while doing it). If there was ever a perfect Tracy, it’s Lizzie Bea, who breathes new life and faultless energy into an already beloved character – a girl who wants to stand out but also blend in. Her charm is nicely matched by love interest Link Larkin (Jonny Aimes), who makes his West End debut here. The lovebirds are supported by a stellar cast of performers, including stage favourites Michael Ball and Les Dennis in the roles of her dutifully supportive parents. Ball’s charisma is ever-present in his reprisal of the role of Edna (which earned him an Olivier in 2008), while Dennis’s performance is softly understated and sincere. Marisha Wallace’s faultless turn as Motormouth Maybelle and her rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been earns her a mid-show standing ovation – a rarity that was deserved a thousand times over.
However, while Hairspray is all about the heroes, praise must also be awarded to those who sometimes play the villains. Georgia Anderson dazzles in the role of Amber Von Tussle, taking every minute of her stage time to shine. If her West End debut is anything to go by, she’s one to watch. Finally, Mari McGinlay and Ashely Samuels share electric chemistry and perfect comic timing in the roles of Penny and Seaweed respectively.
The set design from David Rockwell, complemented by lighting from Kenneth Posner, transports the audience throughout Baltimore – from the streets to Tracy’s living room to a TV studio – creating an immersive experience that simply takes one’s breath away. With theatres being closed for over a year, Hairspray‘s explosive debut makes it clear that theatre is now as alive and thriving as ever. In short, it proves “you can’t stop the beat”.
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Hairspray is at London Coliseum from 30th June until 29th September 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer of the production here: