South Eastposted/updated: 10 Oct 2014 -
Music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray
society/company: Gillingham Dramatic Society (directory)
performance date: 09 Oct 2014
venue: Hazlitt Theatre, 36 Earl Street, Maidstone ME14 1PP
reviewer/s: Susan Elkin (Sardines review)
If you’ve got a vibrant young cast and a terrific sixteen-piece live band – and GDS has both – then it’s difficult to go wrong with Hairspray. And all credit to choreographer Kayleigh Carina who ensures that we get two and a half hours of deliciously evocative, imaginatively staged jiving, twisting and lots more 1960s action – a remarkable achievement especially given the limitations of the Hazlitt’s small stage. The chorus voice work is at a high standard too and the general sense of ensemble speaks volumes for the work of both the musical director, Peter Bailey and the director Francene Harris.
Laura Dee, who opens with the familiar Good Morning Baltimore and then dominates the action as the plump-ish but talented and ambitious girl from a decent family who wants to be on TV, is excellent in the role. She gets the initial innocence and childish awkwardness just right and then develops her character into a mature, thoughtful young woman. And her fine singing and dancing are a real asset. Dee’s Tracy is flanked, most of the time by her ugly-ducking-into-swan friend Penny Pingleton, played by the talented Jeni Brownsill who has plenty of stage presence, a fine singing voice and dances well. And, of course, in the end, both girls get their men.
Rachel Ann Crane gives us a larger-than-life Motormouth Maybelle – singing and with beltissimo passion in both her big solo numbers. She’s an interesting example of colour blind casting too because she is white but we happily accept her as mother of Seaweed (Jason Lodoiska – good). Lee David Chantry does well as Edna, Tracy’s stalwart mother too, in drag but never grotesque. Debbie Brennan as Velma von Tussle and Millie Longhurst as her daughter Amber – an ambitious, self-interested, nasty, pair provide a suitable undercurrent of spite to offset nearly everyone else’s wholesomeness.
It’s not surprising that Hairspray proved very popular indeed as it was released on licence for performance in secondary schools and has remained so. There are more “issues” in the plot than you can shake a stick at – including racism, equal opportunities, family values, body image and bullying. And they’re as topical now as they were in 1962 when this piece is set or in the 1988 when it was written, initially as a film. The GDS production brings all those things out with humour, sensitivity and panache.
Thanks GDS for yet another energetic and exciting evening’s theatre.