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October 6 2015, Reviews The David Beach Competition
HairsprayBy Ian Hurdman

Hairspray

WODS Musical Theatre Company
The Playhouse Theatre, Weston-super-Mare
Saturday 3rd October 2015

This David Beach Competition season has seen Hairspray enough to stock even the busiest salon. This was the third production of the year and it is easy to why musical theatre groups across the county have chosen to produce Shalman and Whittman’s Broadway hit: A high-energy show, packed with larger-than-life characters, some terrific songs, a good, moral story and giving both choreographers and directors the opportunity to really show off. It is very popular and current enough to draw large audiences from a wide range of ages perhaps looking for something different from the dated old favourites like Cole Porter or Rogers and Hammerstein.

It was with a sense of real anticipation that I arrived at the lovely Playhouse Theatre, a little later than hoped – parking is sometimes a challenge in Weston (particularly when the Playhouse has a full house and, judging by the amount of latecomers arriving after the show had started, I was not alone in struggling). It is always exciting to sit in a full house, particularly one with a huge range of age-groups. Vital as our more mature audience regulars are, it is very pleasing to think that shows like Hairspray which attract many younger audience members are ensuring the longevity of the art form.

The pre-show state of the stage was a simple projection of the show’s title complete with a huge can of the eponymous product. The opening chords from the excellent orchestra, supporting the opening number; Tracy Turnblad (Laura Leadbetter) belting out Good Morning Baltimore from her vertical bed let us know we were in for a big show. A short note here regarding the band under Musical Director Emma Worthy: they were consistently excellent throughout the show, supporting the singing perfectly and always in great balance with the singers, from a volume perspective. The scenery quickly moved us to the Corny Collins Show – a brash, American pop TV show hosted by Corny (Tim Clarke). The hired scenery was very effective, encapsulating a cartoon-like world of the early sixties: colourful and fun. Scene changing was managed throughout the show in a smooth and quiet manner by the team under Stage Manager Russell Scott. It is always something of a disappointment to me that many directors stick to the old-fashioned habit of making scenery changes in blackout. It tends to halt the flow of the show, losing the built-up energy of the previous scene. When a team works as smoothly as this one – why not let the audience have something to watch while the team does its job?

We quickly meet the main protagonists and supporting players: Tracy’s mum, the hard-working laundress Edna Turnblad (Dave Bailey), her joke shop-owning father Wilbur (Pete Tyrell), best friend Penny Pingleton (Flora-Kate Lacy) and the toothsome Link Larkin (Adam Hunter), the apple of Tracy’s eye. Of course no story is complete without “baddies” and these were provided by the loathsome Amber von Tussle (Kirsty Slater) and her equally unpleasant mother Velma (Bev Priest). As the story of racial prejudice and “shapeism” progresses we also meet Tracy’s new friends Seaweed J Stubbs (Eleazar Alexander), his sister Little Inez Stubbs (Bethany Jones) and their remarkable mother Motormouth Maybelle (Natasha Green). In addition to those I have named is a huge supporting cast of Council Members, Dynamites, Teachers, Cheerleaders and shop owners, all of whom made a real contribution.

The audience on the final performance night which I attended clearly thoroughly enjoyed the show, rising to a standing ovation for the finale You Cant Stop the Beat and applauding enthusiastically throughout. For me it was something of a game of two halves: Though the first act was competently delivered I felt that energy levels only really started to reach the heights during the second. Certainly by the time the finale rolled around the cast were really pumping and it would have been great to see that pace and forcefulness earlier. There were some stand-out moments in the show: Thirteen year old Bethany Jones as Little Inez delivered a terrific solo section of Run and Tell That and her on-stage brother Eleazar Alexander as Seaweed showed some very smooth dance moves in addition to a rich and powerful singing voice. Natasha Green is always easy to watch and listen to and she delivered the goods one more as Motormouth with some great attitude and memorable vocals. Without Love featuring Link, Penny, Prudy, Seaweed and Tracy was also very strong.

This was a great choice of show following on from last year’s hugely successful David Beach Trophy winning Jesus Christ Superstar it seems that WODS Musical Theatre Company are alive and well and continuing to delight their audiences. Long may they continue to do so.

Ian Hurdman