Hairspray is a show full of big musical numbers, big costumes and even bigger hair. Set in the 1960's, the storyline follows the upbeat Tracy Turnblad (played by the excellent Freya Sutton) – an unlikely heroine, who gets the guy and changes Baltimore's attitude towards racial integration. The combination works well: it's an inspired move to tackle serious issues of segregation behind a superficial facade. And it's all done with the help of a back-combed hairdo, and Tracy's trusty can of hairspray.
The choreography was fast and furious, with a strong cast displaying supersonic energy from start to finish. Some of the staging is particularly enjoyable: there is excellent use of split focus, with two or even three scenes running alongside each other. But it's the strong vocal numbers which truly carry the production, particularly the breathtaking I Know Where I've Been, sung by a brilliant Brenda Edwards in the role of Motormouth Maybelle. I literally had goosebumps. A duet between husband-and-wife team Edna and William Turnblad (Tony Maudsley and Peter Duncan) is also a highlight; cute and full of fun, the chemistry between the two actors was just perfect.
Maudsley, in fact, was the star of the show for me, exploiting his gift of a part and delivering scene-stealing lines with superb comic timing. But excellent support comes from such characters as Seaweed (Dex Lee), whose body literally flowed with every move he made, and Penny Pingleton (Monique Young) – who captured the characterisation of a side-kick geek brilliantly.
But all this activity has a downside, and in some of the big musical numbers I felt there was just a little too much going on. It was hard to relax and enjoy what was in front of me; I felt that if I watched something for too long, I'd miss something important happening elsewhere on stage. And if I'm honest, some of the songs got a little repetitive too. If I'd heard the word 'Baltimore' just one more time, I might have taken a pair of scissors to their beehives.
Still, if you like your costumes glitzy – with big musical numbers to sing along to, and a dose of nostalgia too – then this is an ideal evening out. The atmosphere is irresistible, so grab your comb and get down to the Theatre Royal for a very good hair day.