Two weeks ago on the 3rd of August I went to see the matinee of the musical Hairspray in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin with my sister Sharon. The setting of the musical is in Baltimore in Maryland in 1962 and our protagonist is Tracy Turnblad who represents all plus size teenage girls or plus size women like myself. She is an ordinary girl with ambitions to have it all: the career on The Corny Collins Show and the man of her dreams in the form of Link Larkin who performs on the said show. But there is so much more to Tracy than all this. She is a very compassionate and good person who thinks of other people. She uses her eventual success on the show as a way to fight against racial segregation. The year the musical was set in was a time when the fight for equality for African Americans and also other disadvantaged groups of people was in the middle of its important fight for justice.
Turnblad is played by 22 year old Freya Sutton who graduated from the prestigious Italia Conti theatre school in London in July last year where previous alumni also include. She plays the part incredibly well and reminds me of how played Turnblad in the film version of Hairspray in. Her parents are played by Mark Benton (Edna Turnblad) and Paul Rider (Wilbur Turnblad). The two actors are incredible in displaying their love for each other which has not grown stale over the many years they’ve been together and also in displaying the love they have for their only child Tracy. Tracy’s love interest is the irrepressibly handsome Link Larkin whose heart is in the right place but he is also overly ambitious. Larkin is played in this production by New Yorker Luke Striffler who has previously been in the UK Tour of Avenue Q as . Striffler plays the part to perfection and does a really good Southern American accent which is really rather sexy. Her best friend and easily my favourite character in Hairspray is Penny Pingleton. She is played by Lauren Hood who previously appeared as Laura in the UK Tour of the musical Dreamboats and Petticoats. I identify more with Pingleton than any of the characters. I’m quite dippy too and her reaction to meeting her love interest Seaweed J Stubbs makes me think of my own reaction to a hot man! I also find her very funny and Hood times Pingleton’s one-liners to perfection. Pingleton’s boyfriend Seaweed J Stubbs is played by former The X Factor runner up Marcus Collins but he wasn’t performing in this particular show. Instead Stubbs was played by the amazingly talented Nathaniel Morrison who has previously been in Sister Act alongside Whoopi Goldberg at the Palladium. His chemistry with Hood was brilliant and he gave incredible swagger to a character who is all about the swagger. His mother, Motormouth Maybelle is played by Sandra Marvin who as has previously performed in Cole Porters’ The New Yorkers’ at the Sadlers Wells Theatre. The range that that woman can hit is unreal and she had many high notes to hit that showed off her amazing vocal ability on the day. Her daughter and Seaweed’s sister Inez is played by Gabrielle Brooks. She previously starred in BBC’s Coming Down the Mountain alongside Nicholas Hoult and in. She plays the role to perfection and brings a lot of youthful energy to the performance. Former Eastenders actress Lucy Bengamin played Velma Von Tussle, t at The Corny Collins Show who is against Turnblad been on the show because of her weight and is also a racial bigot who doesn’t want to see Tracy’s vision of racial integration on the show realised. Near the end of the musical when she is told that she has a top position in an organisation for women of colour, her reaction is done with such fantastic acting and timing on Benjamin’s part. Her daughter is played by Gemma Sutton who previously starred as alongside Marti Webb and Mark Evans in the UK tour of Oklahoma! She starred as Laurey and it was in 2010. She gives an incredible performance as Tracy’s nemesis. Corny Collins is a character that always makes me laugh and I loved James Marsden playing him in the film. Australian actor Josh Piterman played him here and he didn’t disappoint. He had the cheesy smile and false charm of Collins to a tee and gave a great performance. Though there was many other fantastic performances in the musical, other standouts included David Ribi as Sketch who was recently in the West End and also the UK and European performances of Dremboats and Petticoats. Though this was a small part he really shone through. He’s incredibly natural actor who seems to act from his heart. You wouldn’t even know he was acting. It seems like second nature to him. And that’s the kind of acting I really love. My three favourite actors Al Pacino, Ben Whishaw and Chris Colfer all seem to possess that natural acting style. Also I really enjoyed the girls from Dynamite who were clearly very talented. Jocasta Almgill as Peaches, Lori Baker as Cindy and Sophia Brown as Pearl. Their vocal ability was effortless and their harmonies together were fantastic. That blend of voices is such a hard thing to do but they done it to perfection. And I loved their clothes. The entire cast was really good though and managed to put on a fantastic show as a team.
The entire crew did a fantastic job too but I must give special mention to a few elements that I felt were really amazing. I’m a fashion student so I was bound to be critical of costume but William Ivey Long who has previously worked on Hugh Jackman: Back On Broadway didn’t disappoint. The clothes remained true to the era in which the musical was set and the unveiling of Tracy’s and her mother’s dresses in Mister Pinky’s store was perfect because the outfits worked. This needed to be right as it’s such a big moment in the piece because Edna hasn’t been out of the house in years and suddenly she’s enjoying herself in this new, beautiful outfit. I absolutely loved the dresses Dynamite wore as I previously mentioned and also the blue, sparkly dress Penny wore near the end was lovely. How the costume designer used the storyline as a basis for the clothes to show how the characters like Tracy, Penny and Edna progressed is what good costume designing is all about. I thought the male members of cast looked incredibly dapper in their outfits. Wig and Hair designer Paul Huntley also did an incredible job. Tracy’s and Edna’s hair are so hard to do so that was an achievement in itself. Other notable hairstyles were Velma’s and Link’s. Music and Lyrics/Arrangements was composed by Marc Shaiman who works as a executive producer, co-lyricist and music composer for TV show Smash with partner Scott Wittman who provided us with Lyrics. They have previously been nominated for both Grammy and Emmy Awards for a song they wrote for Smash called Let Me Be Your Star. They were also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy TV series. It’s easy to see why because the music is such a crucial part to any musical and their work on the music really brings Hairspray alive for the audience. Jack O’ Brien had the very responsible job of Director. He has previously worked on The Full Monty on Broadway for which he received one of his four Tony Awards. He done a great job in making sure the production went brilliantly. The dancing is a major part of Hairspray and each member of cast was so slick. I honestly think if I tried some of them moves I’d break my neck! So Choreographer Jerry Mitchell who also worked on The Full Monty did an outstanding job. He made sure the moves were down to a tee and that everyone was in perfect time and in sync with each other. It was a masterclass in how routines should be done by groups of people. Set designer David Rockwell who previously worked on Kinky Boots and Hairspray which he earned Tony, Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk nominations. There is so much going on with the Hairspray set that he did so incredibly well. A notable scene is when Tracy along with Edna and Penny is watching The Corny Collins in Tracy’s, Edna’s and Wilbur’s house and the show is on in the studio over the other side of the stage. It is hard enough to do a set for one scene but to do two scenes in one is outstanding and shows a wealth of talent. Nicholas Skilbeck who was musical director for Sweeney Todd’s revival last year was musical supervisor here and done amazingly well. Peter White was Musical Director. He previously worked as Assistant Musical Director for the West End’s version of Avenue Q. He also did really, really well. David Grindrod Associates who previously cast Once for Dublin and the West End were charged with finding the cast and as everyone was amazing in their roles it is clear they did a great job. Special mention must go out to the original writers of the book Mark O’ Donnell and Thomas Meehan. The most important people in the process in my opinion because without their vision Hairspray simply wouldn’t exist so I thank them both for writing a story I love with ambition, depth, fun, lots of lovable characters that you care about and for having such an amazing message of equality, hope and compassion. Both have deservedly won Tony Awards in 2003 for Hairspray. O’ Donnell also wrote Getting Over Homer while Meehan wrote books for musicals including Annie Warbucks.
Standout songs on the night for me were Good Morning Baltimore, I Can Hear The Bells, It Takes Two, Welcome to the ’60s’, Run and Tell That, Big Blonde and Beautiful, Timeless to Me, I Know Where I’ve Been and You Can’t Stop the Beat while standout scenes were Good Morning Baltimore, TV Station WZZT and Turnblad Home, Turnblad Home and Streets of Baltimore, Patterson Park Playground, Motormouth Maybelle’s Record Shop both times, The Har-De-Har Hut, Tracy’s Jail Cell and Penny’s Bedroom and The Baltimore Eventorium.
I completely the day out with my sister. She completely enjoyed it too. We got our photograph taken for a Bord Gais promotion. We also took our own photographs and had a drink and a few cigarettes inbetween and before the performance. When we left we got a bit soaked with the rain that came but thankfully got shelter before we got too wet. My sister had a wonderful night too. Thank you to the staff at the Bord Gais Theatre for all their help and fantastic customer service on the day and also thank you to the cast and crew of Hairspray for a fun day out. But most of all, thank you to my sister Sharon who made the day perfect for me. We had the most fun, immature time and that’s what it’s all about. Thank you sis. Love you.