Review: ‘Hairspray’ @ Bristol Hippodrome

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By Kate Bowie, Co-Deputy Arts Editor

Clad in luminous costume, adorned with dynamic choreography and dripping in undiluted energy, Hairspray at the Bristol Hippodrome offers a much needed beacon of optimism as we enter a bleak Bristol winter.

Hairspray has been bringing do-wop tunes and towering hair-dos to audiences since its Broadway debut in 2002. Our lead, Tracy Turnblad, is a teenage girl determined to dance her way onto TV. In the face of fatphobic name-calling she finds fame, love and a cause worth fighting: the show’s racial integration.

Katie Brace gives her debut performance as an unstoppable Tracy. Her opening number establishes all the boundless enthusiasm an audience could wish for. Somehow this endless energy carries over the two and a half hour run time (including interval), and Katie leaves every scene dazzling in her wake.

Katie Brace as Tracy Turnblad | Credit to Darren Bell

Brenda Edwards, who entered as Motormouth Maybelle to thunderous applause, dominated the stage with her dulcet tones and emotional rendition of ‘I know where I’ve been’.

While the entire cast offers hilarious comic timing and playful one-liners, Alex Bourne and Norman Pace still stood out as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad respectively. Their hysterical chemistry left the audience riotous, some lines of ‘Your timeless to me’ being almost drowned out in laughter.

While the leads were undoubtably shining, the supporting cast refused to be overlooked. Charlotte St Croix gave a standout performance, giving an expressive portrayal of Little Inez that was at times heart-wrenching and at others heart-warming.

Alex Bourne and Norman Pace as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad | Credit to Darren Bell

Every member of the ensemble doubled down on their dynamic performances with faultless footwork to boot. Drew McOnie’s spirited choreography was almost hypnotic when paired with the ballooning chromatic skirts of The Corny Collin’s gals.

While Jessica, Brenda, Tammy et al. boasted swooping silhouettes of the fifties, all cast members leapt from quick change to quick change in a visually impressive organisational achievement.

Hairspray’s claim that racist abuse can be erased though dance and that racial justice will simply appear like ‘the river as it rushes to the sea’ is naïve to say the least. The plot certainly demands some suspension of disbelief, especially after recent racially motivated police brutality and the accompanied Black Lives Matter movement in recent years.

The cast of the Corny Collins Show | Credit to Darren Bell

While Hairspray might prove innocently idealistic, the joy obvious in the cast’s performance is just as infectious as the hook in their closing number. And after all, isn’t a little stary-eyed optimism what we all hope to take from a night at the theatre?

Featured Image: Darren Bell


Will you catch Bristol Hippodrome's Hairspray this term?

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