There’s nothing like a nice evening out watching a show-stopping, eye-catching piece of theatre, whether it be a cutting-edge play or an energetic musical. This review’s all about the latter, more specifically York Stage Musicals’ production of the smashing Broadway musical Hairspray at the Grand Opera House York.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the musical’s story, Hairspray is set in a racially divided Baltimore in 1960s America, a time when the music was rocking and youth subculture flourishing. We meet Tracy Turnblad (Maya Tether), a teen whose hair is as big as her personality and dreams. Alongside her are her parents Edna and Wilbur (Joe Wawrzyniak and Andy Stone) and best friend Penny Pingleton (Maya Bartley O’Dea). Tracy dreams of performing on The Corny Collins Show, where teen idol Link Larkin (Conor Mellor) and a big troupe of teenage performers sing and dance to entertain the nation’s teenagers. One day, the show hosts auditions for new performers, and surely enough Tracy goes along to the auditions – but is quickly put down by the show’s racist producer Velma von Tussle because of her size. After meeting black dancer Seaweed Stubbs (Jemal Felix) in detention, she learns new moves from him and uses them at a dance event the next day. Corny Collins (Darren Roberts) realises what a great dancer she is and has her on the show, and it isn’t long before Tracy wants to integrate the show and end the racial division in her town.
The cast of this production are fantastic. There’s an awesome energy pulsing through the musical’s big ensemble numbers and intimate scenes between characters, which draws you into the world of the musical, including the lives of its characters and attitudes of the time. The musical numbers and dramatic scenes interspersed throughout are all well-choreographed and rehearsed, and the characters are well-developed and assist us in conveying to us the musical’s commentary on racial injustice at the time. Tether is excellent as Tracy, who connects with the audience and boasts a brilliant singing voice, but it’s Wawrzyniak who excels as her supportive and protective mother Edna. He voices the character’s own dreams, desires and objectives in a way that’s reflective of the whole company’s awesome portrayal of their own characters.
A simple set also allows the cast members plenty of space to play around with and release their vibrant, brilliant energy throughout the show. Simple pieces of furniture and backdrops take us to different locations with ease, aided further by the dazzling lighting and music, making the transitions between scenes nice and smooth.
This production of Hairspray doesn’t feel clunky or unengaging in the slightest, and I take my hat off to the many young performers involved in it – they bring energy, enthusiasm and talent to the table and inject it into an already excellent musical. Warm, enjoyable and a quality bit of theatre, York Stage Musicals’ production of Hairspray is not to be missed.
Hairspray is playing at Grand Opera House York until 4 April. For tickets and more information, see the York Stage Musicals website.