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New Theatre, Oxford

The 2014 production of Hairspray directed by Paul Kerryson is touring the country again. Extremely polished, remarkable for its emotional sincerity and featuring some of the best young voices and dancers in the UK, it is a major delight and a lovely feel-good show.

It is well-cast and perfectly paced and responds with energetic sympathy and real feeling to the material at hand. Kerryson has for some time been one of the most experienced directors of American musicals (since his days doing most of Stephen Sondheim and much else in Leicester) and his skill, imagination and sheer intelligence show in every aspect of this production and the masterly performances. Matt Rixon as Enda Turnbald and Graham MacDuff as Wilbur Turnblad are excellent, a really fun team and they stop the show with their hilarious duet which also allows them ad-libs, some “corpsing” and considerable latitude in their presentation. Rosie O’Hare is a particularly appealing Tracy. She has a voice that was made for revivals of Ethel Merman musicals.

The social-commentary undercurrent of the musical is well conveyed. Special mention must be made of Brenda Edwards as a powerful Motormouth Mabel with a sensational voice and delivery and a really sympathetic characterization. Annalise Liard-Bailey does a convincing transformation from mouse to talented entertainer as Penny Pingleton, and Raquel Jones is appealing and memorable as Little Inez. Gina Murray’s Velma Von Tussle, Jon Tsouras’s Corny Collins and Dan Partridge’s Link Larkin are all well done and I was delighted also by Lucinda Lawrence in three roles as a female authority figure. Shak Gabbidon-Williams deserves extra special mention as a scene-stealing Seaweed of formidable musical talent. He has the voice and he has the moves!

The design by Takis places the era as well as all the scenes and scene changes clearly, and the choreography by Drew McOnie is very convincingly set in the era of the early 1960s. The band was very good and they had extremely fine arrangements to work with. This is a strong evening’s entertainment. If you know the film, you will get a lot of pleasure out of seeing all this material performed joyfully, live by a very fine ensemble. The audience represented a very large age range that was united in getting up to dance along during the curtain calls. All in all, a very cheerful evening in the theatre.

  • Musical
  • Director Paul Kerryson
  • Choreographer Drew McOnie
  • Cast Includes Matt Rixon, Brenda Edwards, Gina Murray, Graham MacDuff, Rosie O’Hare Shak Gabbidon-Williams, Jon Tsouras, Dan Partridge, Raquel Jones
  • New Theatre, Oxford
  • On Tour around the UK until 4 August 2018

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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