The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

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)

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