Hairspray (review)

Mark Benton in Hairspray
Mark Benton in Hairspray

Oh, oh oh, Hairspray, that feelgood, bubblegum, musical about bouffants and bigotry in 60s Baltimore made a sensational return to Milton Keynes Theatre last night.

It’s hard not to get sucked into the effervescence of the production. It doesn’t matter how outrageously offensive some of the dialogue is (and there are times when it makes you gasp with shock) there is always a cutsie moment that follows that has you tapping your feet.

If you’ve never watched the movie or musical you can be forgiven for thinking that it’s a simple story of teenage aspiration that is backed by a catchy soundtrack.

But underneath all that froth is a slice of Americana that they wished could be airbrushed from history.

We’re in pre-integration when the racial divide was as wide as the Mississippi.

Highlight of the WASP’s TV watching schedule was the Corny Collin’s Show, where a group of all American white kids, with impossibly white smiles and even whiter names – like Sketch, Linc, Tammy and Amber promote the American dream.

They have perfect figures and perfect grades at school – until one day when one of their number disgraces herself and must be replaced with, one assumes, another Barbie doll.

Except that Tracy Turnblad breaks the mould in every respect. The teenager has an outsized figure to match her larger-than-life personality. She won’t settle for no and she won’t change who she is. Shockingly she also wants to see an end to racial segregation.

The story is wrapped in candy floss and comedy and the laughs come thick and fast. The songs – like Good Morning Baltimore, Welcome To The ‘60s (and the shocking misuse of the apostrophe lyricists Scott Wittman/Marc Shaiman!) and You Can’t Stop The Beat – are annoyingly addictive.

The whole show is exhaustively high octane with the entire cast buzzing with energy. The dancing is frenetic and performances, without exception, polished and playful.

Character actor Mark Benton throws caution to the wind and rocks it in floral polyester as Tracy’s mother, Edna, while a performer more used to playing Shakespeare – the diminutive Paul Rider – risks his reputation as a “serious” actor to star as Edna’s other half, joke-shop owner Wilbur.

One of the stand-out moments is when the odd couple sing a surprisingly tender duet, Timless To Me. Wilbur is in danger of being smothered by Benton’s enormous breasts and has to endure a loving kiss on the lips from his heavily padded co-star but it’s all good fun.

But Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle literally stops the show when she delivers a blistering performance of I Know Where I’ve Been. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

Freya Sutton, who makes her professional theatrical debut as Tracy, lights up the stage with her megawatt personality.

But this is a company show and there’s not a poor performance.

Hairspray runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or visit