Review: Hairspray

According to Tracy Turnblad – our Hairspray heroine who wants to bring racial integration to a 1960’s American dance show – “You have to think big to be big” – and young actress Katie Brace certainly brought this charming character to life at The Regent Theatre, Ipswich, last night.

Another of the wonderful West End musicals that has been adapted from film to theatre over the last 30 years or so, “Hairspray” tells the story of Tracy and her quest to not only join the cast of her favourite TV dance show (The Corny Collins Show) but more importantly, strive for racial equality in all walks of life, as well as championing female self-worth along the way. Oh – and all with the added bonus of falling in love…

As with most events post lockdown, The Ipswich Regent had a happy hum and buzz about it last night, with lots of chatter, smiling faces and a sense of ‘carefree normality’ being resumed, and a lovely warm welcome from manager Simon and staff member Alan as we anticipated the show ahead.

The show is set in Baltimore in the early 1960’s when race was an issue that nobody really wanted to mention, let alone tackle, so when Tracy gets detention at high school yet again, she makes friends with her fellow detainees (who are a mix of black and white) and they start to bring about their plans for racial and sexual, equality. 

This was a stellar show, with great dance routines from the supporting cast and some fine acting coming notably from Norman Pace (ex of Hale & Pace) playing Tracy’s dad Wilbur, and the wonderful Alex Bourne playing the role of Tracy’s humble (yet strong) mother, Edna.

There was a hilarious, yet endearing number from the aforementioned duo when they brought to life the song ‘You’re Timeless to Me’, with a little ad-libbing at the end that had the already beguiled audience chuckling in their seats….

And talking of singing, the show was most definitely stolen (for me) by the incredible lungs of Brenda Edwards, who starred as Miss Maybelle Motormouth – the Baltimore R&B record producer who also hosts the annual ” Negro Day ” in their Maryland hometown. Her rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ was nothing short of spectacular, and (quite rightly) prompted huge whoops, cheers and whistles from the auditorium.

This show was absolutely joyous from start to finish, it weaved elements of cabaret with gospel, pantomime, and old school music hall comedy, all held nicely together with true West End musicality. 

The final song of the show ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ could not have been more fitting, with a delighted audience showing their appreciation with a very well-deserved standing ovation. 

So next time you’re having a ‘bad hair’ day – just reach for the Hairspray!

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