Shaftesbury Theatre, London WC2
THERE IS no feel-good show in the West End that feels better than Hairspray. The Hairspray industry — not the cosmetic but the Broadway hit and the recently released film starring John Travolta — is all based on the movie by John Waters, the Count of counterculture who loves to subvert conservative America.
In his 1988 film, he cast the drag artist Divine in the maternal role of Edna Turnblad, here played by Michael Ball. Edna is the oversized mother of the “pleasantly plump”, big haired and even bigger hearted Tracy, a role which will make the assured newcomer Leanne Jones a stage star.
Tracey’s blameless ambition is to dance with all the cool kids on the Corny Collins TV show and, if at all possible, to win the heart of Link Larkin, Baltimore’s answer to Elvis.
But to get on the show, Tracey has to overcome the barrier of Corny’s fatist and racist producer Velma (the excellent Tracie Bennett) who only allows black kids on the set on “negro day”, and has no “fat day” for Tracy.
The inevitable revolution sees Tracey join forces with her fellow refuseniks in Baltimore’s black community, led by party animal Seaweed (Adrian Hansel).
The civil rights message gives a little depth to this otherwise shallow but hugely enjoyable fun loving show. Marc Shaiman’s compositions capture the soul and rock ’n’ roll sounds of the time, but it is Jerry Mitchell’s choreography that elevates Jack O’Brien’s high energy production. Thanks to Mitchell, London at last has a new musical with some properly thought out, well-drilled dancing, instead of the uncoordinated arthritic set pieces in British offerings like Bad Girls and the new version of Rent.
Jones needs to power up her voice, but is an undoubted talent. As Edna’s husband Wilbur, Mel Smith in his musical debut is out of his depth and nowhere near as funny as Jerry Stiller (father of Ben) in Waters’ original film.
Ball, however, is in his element, opting for sincerity instead of parody as the good-hearted, if occasionally baritone broad. But the discovery of the evening is Hansel who does what real talent always does, which is to make a stand-out performance look dead easy. (Tel: 020 7379 5399)