Hairspray – Bord Gáis Energy Theatre – Review by Paddy McGovern
Until 16th Sept
The prolonged standing, stomping, cheering ovation accorded to the first night of Hairspray at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was the spontaneous response of an audience that had been treated to an evening of musical theatre at its very best. Its West End/Broadway best. Fizzling entertainment, infectious enthusiasm, scintillating choreography, first class musicians, dazzling dance numbers … you could empty the book of reviewing clichés and still fail to do justice to this joyous performance that sent the audience home dazzled, uplifted and smiling.
Set in racially segregated Baltimore in the early 1960’s, the show reminds us that the struggle for racial integration is far from over, as shown by recent events in Charlottesville and the dark shadow cast by leading members of the present administration in Washington. It does so with the lightest of touches; the focus is firmly on fun, music and dancing.
The production is blessed with a great ensemble company without a single weak link. As Tracy Turnblad, Rebecca Mendoza’s opening number seemed a little shrill, due to the over-amplification of the stage – an ongoing and exasperating problem at Bord Gáis. Mendoza herself has all the verve and stage presence that the role demands – and then some. Brenda Edwards’s Motormouth Maybelle similarly suffers from over-amplification, especially in her Act l number where the lyrics are sometimes lost but she is superb throughout and her “I Know Where I’ve Been” is deeply moving. Annalise Liard-Bailey plays Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s loyal friend, a perfect foil physically and vocally, eventually emerging from gawky geek to sylph-like beauty. As Tracy’s parents, Matt Rixon and Norman Pace are a brilliant coupling (almost literally!) and their Act ll number, You’re Timeless to Me, is one of the great comic highlights of the evening. Aimee Moore’s characterisation of Amber is perfectly pitched study in prim, smug prejudice masquerading as propriety. As her mother, Velma, Gina Murray is a hoofer and belter of the first order, her characterisation showing us where Aimee got her values and attitudes. Monifa James (Little Inez) and Layton Williams (Seaweed) both ooze stage presence and charisma. Even in an outstanding ensemble of dancers, Williams stands out as special. As the singing trio Dynamite (surely based on The Supremes?) the trio of Emily-Mae, Melissa Nettleford and Lauren Concannon are not just strikingly beautiful but wouldn’t seem at all out of place as a full musical act in their own right.
Director Paul Kerryson, Choreographer Drew McOnie, Musical Director Ben Atkinson, Set & Costume designer Takis and the entire production team have served up an exceptional evening’s entertainment. You really don’t want to miss this one as it continues its run for this week only, finishing Saturday 16th.