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Hairspray at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - Review

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
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Festive fun for the holiday season
Television favourites Claire Sweeney, Peter Duncan and Tony Maudsley are the familiar faces in this new touring production of Hairspray but it is the supporting cast and ensemble that particularly shine.

Their dynamic dancing and vibrant vocals - all delivered with effervescent energy help make the show a delicious Christmas treat. And by the end of the first night in Birmingham they had the whole audience standing and joining in.

Hairspray, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Review, Claire Sweeney, Peter Duncan, Tony Maudsley, Freya Sutton
Dynamic: The dancing dazzles in Hairspray (pic: Ellie Kurttz)

Hairspray has laughs, glitz and glamour, but beneath all that there's the serious message about attitudes towards race and body image in early 60s America.

We're in Baltimore in 1962 and chubby Tracy Turnblad (Freya Sutton) plans to audition as a dancer on local TV pop programme The Corny Collins Show. Her even chubbier mother, Edna (Benidorm's Tony Maudsley), warns that she has no chance of success but her dad (Peter Duncan) encourages her to follow her dream.

The TV programme is ruled by producer Velma Von Tussle (Claire Sweeney) who ensures her daughter, Amber (Lauren Stroud), is the centre of attention and the frontrunner in the Miss Hairspray talent contest. She is also a racist, clashing with supporters of the station's monthly 'Negro Day' when Rhythm and Blues is played but inter-racial dancing is not allowed. Tracey makes it her mission to change all that.

Hairspray, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Review, Claire Sweeney, Peter Duncan, Tony Maudsley, Freya Sutton
Serious: Integration not segregation, says Hairspray's Tracy Turnblad (pic: Ellie Kurtz)

One of the strengths of Hairspray is the terrific music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, inspired by the pop tunes of the era. The toe-tapping Welcome to the 60s even features a Supremes-style trio.

The biggest cheers of the night went to Run and Tell That, a soaring rendition by Dex Lee in the role of Seaweed, and I Know Where I've Been, a superb performance by former X-Factor contestant Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle who also raised the roof with first act closer Big, Blonde and Beautiful.

Among the impressive ensemble, watch out for Layton Williams (Stephen in TV's Bad Education) who provides some stunning gymnastics during the finale, You Can't Stop the Beat.

Hairspray, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Review, Claire Sweeney, Peter Duncan, Tony Maudsley, Freya Sutton
Superb: Brenda Edwards is Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray (pic: Ellie Kurttz)

Tony Maudsley has said he didn't want to make Edna too much of a pantomime dame but at this time of year the comparison is inevitable. He doesn't go over the top but does get a lot of laughs, especially when he duets with Peter Duncan who appears tiny next to his well-padded 'wife'.

Hairspray, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Review, Claire Sweeney, Peter Duncan, Tony Maudsley, Freya Sutton
Second tour: Freya Sutton is Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray (pic: Ellie Kurttz)

As Tracy, Freya Sutton spends a lot of time on stage. It's her second tour in the role and she's a joy to watch. From the opening number, Good Morning Baltimore, to the infectious You Can't Stop the Beat at the end she doesn't put a foot wrong. Neither will you if you head for Hairspray over the festive season.

Hairspray tour dates

Until Jan 2, 2016: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham;
Jan 19 - Jan 30: Theatre Royal, Newcastle;
Feb 1 - Feb 6: His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen;
Feb 8 - Feb 13: Lyceum, Sheffield;
Feb 15 - Feb 20: Corn Exchange, Cambridge;
Feb 22 - Feb 27: Playhouse, Edinburgh;
Feb 29 - Mar 5: Eden Court, Inverness;
Mar 7 - Mar 12: Hippodrome, Bristol;
Mar 14 - Mar 19: New Victoria Theatre, Woking;
Mar 21 - Mar 26: New Theatre, Cardiff;
Mar 29 - Apr 2: Theatre Royal, Norwich;
Apr 4 - Apr 9: Milton Keynes Theatre;
Apr 11 - Apr 16: Venue Cymru, Llandudno;
Apr 18 - Apr 23: Theatre Royal, Plymouth;
Apr 25 - Apr 30: Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury;
May 2 - May 7: Churchill Theatre, Bromley;
May 9 - May 14: Regent Theatre, Stoke;
May 16 - May 21: Cliffs Pavilion, Southend.

Click here for my review of Guys and Dolls, another excellent musical at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre.
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Why? Loads of fun for the festive season
When: Until Jan 2, 2016, in Birmingham, then touring until May 21, 2016
Phone: 0844 871 3011
Where: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, then touring
Cost: From 17.90 plus fees
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