Theatre review - Hairspray, Manchester Opera House

The Corny Collins Show, Hairspray 2018

The Corny Collins Show, Hairspray 2018 - Credit: Archant

You definitely can’t stop the beat in this thrillingly good show, writes Kate Houghton

Brenda Edwards, Hairspray 2018

Brenda Edwards, Hairspray 2018 - Credit: Archant

Hairspray is perhaps one of the most feel-good of feel-good musicals you would ever be lucky enough to experience, and last night’s performance at Manchester Opera House delivered against every hope and expectation the audience might have held, and then some.

It’s big, it’s brash and it’s beautiful and it carries a strong message about integration, understanding and empathy, at a time when these seem to be in short supply around the world.

Hairspray UK Tour 2018

Hairspray UK Tour 2018 - Credit: Archant

The songs are, of course, fabulous – filled with the rhythms of the 1960’s, when rock and roll was horrifying parents across the USA, with its associations with ‘black’ music at a time when prejudice was inherent and unquestioned, racial tensions ran high and segregation was the norm.

It is however the delivery of the songs that makes this show the continual success that it is. And that’s down to the casting.

Last night we saw dazzling performances from every cast member, without exception. There were however a couple of stand-out performers, who knew who they were from the applause and cheers that began even before they finished their songs.

Tracy Turnblad, our curvaceous, dim but passionately open-minded heroine, was played brilliantly by Rebecca Mendoza, though I think we didn’t get to experience her true vocal range because of the slightly annoying demand that she do everything with a nasal overtone, which while it no doubt gives it a more American feel, doesn’t really allow her to give every note full reign. She’s a brilliant comic actress however, really giving it some welly in the scenes with her boy crush Link Larkin, whose effect on Tracy is made very clear!

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The stars of the show have to be the wonderful Motormouth Maybelle, played by Brenda Edwards and Seaweed, her son, played by Layton Williams. Oh my, when Edwards punches her voice out there, it fills the auditorium with a soaring power that lifts you from your seat. It’s jubilant, it’s expressive, it’s heart-liftingly good and she deserved every whistle and cheer that sprang spontaneously from the audience. As did the positively elastic Layton Williams. A cracking voice, an amazing dancer and an Olympic standard gymnast too, judging by his antics last night!

Word must be given to the excellent Matt Rixon, who took the role of Edna Turnblad and made her beautiful. The duet between her and husband Wilbur, played by Norman Pace, was funny and loving, cheeky and romantic in equal measure. These two actors must have laughed their way through every rehearsal and brought their joy to the stage last night.

Hairspray plays at Opera House Manchester until Saturday 7 April.