Hairspray - the musical with big heart (and even bigger hair) returns to Birmingham as part of it's second national tour. Following teen culture and the race segregation of 1962 Baltimore, tubby teenager Tracy Turnblad takes it upon herself to make big change.
Despite all odds, when larger than life Tracy is picked to be the new dancer on The Corny Collins Show there's suddenly no stopping her from fighting for what's right. With the help of her friends, Tracy's determination brings everyone together in a fight against TV executives to integrate everybody of all colours and sizes.
At only 22 and fresh from training Freya Sutton leads as Tracy. Appearing in most of the shows big dance numbers there's little time to rest once the curtain goes up yet energy is in an abundance throughout. An impressive professional debut from Sutton who manages to sing incredibly well too despite Tracy's constant excitable jumping and high energy routines. Also making his professional theatre debut is X Factor finalist Marcus Collins as Seaweed J Stubbs. Whoever said that reality show contestants do not belong in musical theatre are wrong here. This is no "stunt cast" - sure it looks great on the posters but on stage he more than lives up to (and exceeds) expectations.
Whilst he may not posses similar vocal talents as London's original Michael Ball, Mark Benton as Tracy's mother Edna Turnblad is a delight. Hilarious in the role, the already humorous character is taken up to a different level, particularly when paired with Paul Rider as husband Wilbur. Their rendition of 'Timeless To Me' brought the house to concert-like applause.
Owing to the indisposition of Lucy Benjamin, the role of Velma Von Tussle is played by Wendy Somerville - who is suitably mean and scary. Also standing in at this performance was Piers Bate, replacing Josh Piterman as TV show host Corny Collins. Bate proved to be at ease in the role and gave a smooth performance.
What is great about Hairspray is not only does the show have a great message about acceptance and equal opportunities - the lead cast are given exactly that, equal time to shine. Lauren Hood impresses as Tracy's ditzy friend Penny Pingleton as does Gemma Sutton as Amber Von Tussle - both giving incredible vocal performances. Luke Striffler as heartthrob Link Larkin lives up to the Zac Efron image and surely melts hearts. Gabrielle Brooks shines as little Inez.
There is one particular song which rises above and beyond all of the others, and the lucky person who gets to sing it is the powerhouse that is Sandra Marvin. I Know Where I've Been is the moment in which all of the comedy and dancing comes to halt and Hairspray's message is well and truly delivered. Maybelle is feisty, she talks in rhyme and wins the audience over with humour, warmth and exceptional vocals. Marvin's performance alone is worth much of the ticket price.
Hairspray is a joyous celebration of how far society has come. You leave feeling educated, enthralled and entertained. You certainly can't stop the beat long after you've left the theatre.
Tickets for Hairspray at the Birmingham Hippodrome are selling fast and you can book yours here. Playing until Saturday 1st June.
You can listen to audience reactions from Birmingham's press night on the podcast below!
You can also listen to the Hippodrome podcast which features interviews with the cast!
Cast List: Mark Benton, Lucy Benjamin, Marcus Collins, Freya Sutton, Luke Striffler, Sandra Marvin, Josh Piterman, Paul Rider, Gemma Sutton, Lauren Hood, Wendy Somerville, Daniel Stockton, Gabrielle Brooks, Amelia Adams-Pearce, Jocasta Almgill, Lori Barker, Piers Bate, Arun Blair-Mangat, Sophie Brown, Andrew Bryant, Georgia Carling, Rhiannon Chesterman, Francesca Hoffman, Samantha Hull, Claudia Kariuki, Lewis Kirk, Sam Lathwood, Fela Lufadeju, Simone Mistry Palmer, Nikki Pocklington, Nathaniel Morrison, David Ribi, Noel Samuels and Laura Thorogood.