Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Waters based his story on a real-life incident in the early 1960’s, in Baltimore, Maryland, when a dramatic and successful invasion was carried out during the live TV broadcast of a popular segregated TV dance show, The Buddy Deane Show, by a mixed group of young black and white dancers. In life, the protest demonstration was led by a Danny Schlechter, who went on to become a celebrated activist in the American civil rights movement. In “Hairspray” Schlechter is replaced by “pleasantly plump” young Tracy Turnblad, and Buddy Deane by Corny Collins. Tracy’s dreams of an integrated society for young people in the show come true. Her personal ambitions and romantic dreams are fulfilled, too.
This production is superb, a non-stop pageant of song, humour and breath-taking dancing, especially from the male dancers. The songs include 1960s-style dance music and "downtown" rhythm and blues, the costumes are dazzling and the ensemble scenes are a riot of colour and co-ordinated choreography.
Memorable moments for me also include the triple mother-daughter duets, “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” in the first act, and the set piece in which Tracy’s parents, Edna and Wilbur (Matt Rixon and Peter Duncan) tell each other “You’re Timeless to Me”. As a romantic interlude between a pantomime dame and her vertically challenged husband, this is irrestistibly funny, and also strangely touching.
The message of this show is timeless: it’s not looks that matter, but talent and respect for other people. And love conquers racism and bigotry.
Janice Windle 15/03/16