Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Credit: Ellie Kurttz

I've seen Hairspray a total of three times now. On the big screen with John Travolta et al, on a London stage back in 2009, and now in the Palace Theatre Manchester, as the latest edition of the much-loved musical tours the nation. Turns out third time's a charm - I've never been more in love with the show.

Opening night was a sold-out affair, packed to the rafters with fans, celebrities and reviewers who didn't need giving too much persuasion to at least bob their heads along to the onslaught of bubblegum pop songs, soaring and lifting the spirits of the crowd.

'Good Morning Baltimore' acted as the opening number and immediately transported us into 1960's America, and Freya Sutton - now veteran to the role of leading lady Tracy Turnblad - knew exactly how to light up the stage with her infectious energy and dance numbers. The audience at once felt a part of the production which is important for any stage show, and from that moment on we were consumed in the action taking place on-stage.

She's joined by best friend Penny Pingleton - played by the hilarious Monique Young - and the two are an incredible duo, with Penny's ditzy one liners constantly drawing big laughs from the masses.

Jon Tsouras provided the best portrayal of character Corny Collins I've seen to-date; with perfect comedic timing, one of the best voices in the show and a real connection to the audience, he embodied the entertainment show host impeccably. His scenes came alongside 'the nicest kids in town' including Ashley Gilmour's charismatic Link Larkin and Lauren Stroud's bratty wannabe Amber. The pair start as starry eyed lovers with big dreams and bigger prejudices, but when Tracy arrives with an ambition and determination to see the world integrated regardless of race, barriers start to be broken down.

Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Credit: Ellie Kurttz

Despite Tracy's best efforts however, Amber and her mother Velma Von Tussle - played by real-life sweetheart Claire Sweeney - are intent on ensuring the walls between race remain, and scatter their racist views amongst the otherwise lighthearted script. They're a pair we all love to hate, and Sweeney's 'Miss Baltimore Crabs' is a highlight, as the lioness (Velma) devours the cub (Tracy) without allowing her a chance to prove herself.

Then there's Brenda Edwards. What can be said about her depiction of Motormouth Maybelle other than she is the PERFECT choice for this role? If I go to see Hairspray in the future, I would hope that she would be asked to return, as her fiery and fiesty performance is not only exciting and uplifting with 'Big, Blonde and Beautiful', but thought provoking and harrowing when the time comes for the stirring 'I Know Where I've Been' - the song which got the biggest whoops and cheers of the night.

Though we're seeing a little snippet of an at times exaggerated world from the 60's, I can't help but compare the struggles the black community have to continue to face today to the ones we see on-stage. When Dex Lee's Seaweed makes a joke about scattering whenever the police arrive, it's funny for a split second, and then humbling as you realise that whilst we may be leaps and bounds ahead of this time, there's still a long way to go before black and white people alike are truly equal. How often are we hearing about power-crazed police officers shooting down people of colour when it was entirely unneccessary? Far too often, and that's exactly why Hairspray is still one of the modern day's most important musicals.

Speaking of Seaweed, he's an instant crowd pleaser and one heck of a mover and shaker. Dex Lee brings personality to the role in a way I haven't seen before and manages to add another layer to an already well-rounded out character.

Props must also go to Karis Jack, whose identification with Little Inez is a stellar affair. She's unafraid to stand up for her rights and intent on becoming a star - just like Tracy. And just like Tracy, she faces bigotry for various reasons, but overcomes all of that to ensure her time in the spotlight will come.

And of course what is Hairspray without Tracy's parents Edna and Wilbur Turnblad? Tony Maudsley and Peter Duncan step into the roles respectively, and their relationship is darling. 'You're Timeless To Me' is fun and exuberant, hilarious and laden with innuendo, really allowing Benidorm's Maudsley to sink his teeth into the iconic role. Duncan's Wilbur, though shaky on his accent at times, does well to ensure he isn't consumed by the grandeur and spectacle going on around him, and even almost steals the show just before the big closing number with his huge can of Ultra Clutch hairspray.

'You Can't Stop The Beat' is one of the most uplifting ends a show could ever possess, and the cast ensure that every audience member is having a good time, encouraging all to finally get on their feet, sing and dance along.

Hairspray is a show about feeling good and pushing for inclusion rather than exclusion. If anybody walked out of that theatre last night without a smile on their faces or without having a good time, I'd be incredibly surprised. The show's a roaring success, and should have an incredible run through to the middle of 2016.

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