Feeling very important, I queued with the other invitees outside a side entrance before finding my seat at the very front of the Upper Circle, the best seat in the house! For once my view of the stage wasn’t crowded by craning necks, and I was free to take in this extraordinary production in this extraordinary theatre unobstructed. The auditorium is adorned with plush red seats and endless golden embellishments below a masterfully crafted dome, its crowning glory standing proud since 1904. As a newly appointed member of the Front of House Team at the London Coliseum, largest theatre in the West End, I am still in awe that this is now my workplace.
The electricity was instant. From the first note of the first song, I became a teenager of the 60s, a resident of Baltimore, and an avid viewer of the Corny Collins Show. Lizzie Bea is an instant hit with her charismatic portrayal of Tracy Turnblad, the lovable protagonist. Never far away is her awkward gum chewing sidekick Penny Lou Pingleton, played by Mari McGinlay, whilst Georgia Anderson makes for a satisfyingly irritating Amber Von Tussle. The relationship between this trio of personalities is executed brilliantly, and the character development of Penny is unmatched.
The show brings excitement and energy, whilst also tackling an issue that the majority of audience members (myself included) cannot even imagine experiencing. Marisha Wallace leaves the audience spellbound and on their feet every time without fail after her powerful solo expressing her inner pride and the importance of staying true to yourself despite racial segregation and oppression. The show is also speckled with humour, but Michael Ball’s bumbling depiction of Edna Turnblad is of particular hilarity and brings the house down with ease – never more so than during his charming duet with Les Dennis, in You’re Timeless to Me, the number sealed with a kiss.
However, at times the age and dated perceptions of this musical are apparent, and potentially problematic in today's racial climate. At times, the fight against segregation and for racial equality is swept aside in favour of weak comedic attempts or heralding the white protagonist. When comparing the musical with the most recent 2007 film adaptation, a noticeable difference is that Little Inez does not win Miss Teenage Hairspray as she does in the film, instead Tracy takes the title. This is the poignant moment of Baltimore’s fight for integration, which perhaps shouldn’t have been erased.
Of course, there are many other differences to accommodate the space and resources, but none that I feel compromise the standard of the show to the same extent as the aforementioned. The cast, sets and music are fantastic and make for an evening impossible to dislike. After munching on sliders, doughnuts and jelly beans, you will be humming the songs all the way home!
Now at full capacity, after an unfortunate period of recent closure, we are back and better than ever, and the atmosphere during the finale is nothing short of extraordinary! Having now watched the show countless times, I am yet to tire of it and look forward to every performance – so if you can get tickets don’t miss out!
You can buy tickets from the London Coliseum for Hairspray here!