Fun musical that makes you think

Micky Dolenz in Hairspray at Nottingham's Theatre Royal.
Micky Dolenz in Hairspray at Nottingham's Theatre Royal.

LIVELY and funny, but meeting racism head-on, Hairspray got off to a flying start when the musical comedy opened at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal this week as part of its national tour.

The West End hit spent a record-breaking 29 weeks at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre and is earning more critical acclaim in its latest incarnation.

Set in 1962, shortly before the Beatles overturned the popular music business, it tells the tale of Tracy Turnblad (Laurie Scarth), an overweight girl with big hair who dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins Show, a whites-only TV programme in Baltimore, sponsored by Ultra Clutch hairspray.

But the producer Velma Von Tussle (Gillian Fitzpatrick) is lobbying for her daughter Amber (Clare Halse) to be crowned Miss Hairspray. So the battle begins, with Tracy not only aiming for the stars but fighting for an integration policy which would allow her black friends to take part in the production.

And for all its fluff and feelgood nature, the show demonstrates just how racial barriers were torn down and segregation was kicked into touch.

Musically, the early 60s are authentically recreated, with an acknowledgement that the big band sound still had its part to play in 1962, alongside the pop songs of the day.

Former Monkees star Micky Dolenz and ex-Brookside, The Royal and Coronation Street favourite Michael Starke are in fine form as Tracy’s parents Wilbur and Edna, with Starke, in particular, excelling in drag.

It’s a far cry from his role as Jerry Morton in charge of the Corrie kebab shop but he earned prolonged applause for a display of song, comedy and dance. The duo’s comic duet Timeless To Me was one of the many highlights.

There are fine performances from Emma Dukes as Tracy’s geeky friend Penny, Wayne Robinson as the slick-moving Seaweed and Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle. Good Morning Baltimore, The Madison, You Can’t Stop the Beat and a tremendous performance by Sandra Marvin singing I Know Where I’ve Been are other big moments.

There are plenty of references to the issues of the day, such as Debbie Reynolds’s split from singer Eddie Fisher and Rosa Parks, the 42-year-old black woman who refused to give up her seat to a white bus passenger. They provide extra depth without detracting from the fun factor in an evening which amply demonstrates just how much young talent exists in British theatre.

Hairspray is on at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, until Saturday March 12.