Venue: Grand Opera House, York
With John Waters’s 2007 movie still fresh in audiences’ mind, York Stage Musicals’s production of Hairspray had a lot to live up to in the opening night- and thankfully, they did not disappoint.
Maya Tether captures the effervescent optimism as leading lady Tracy Turnblad perfectly, and her big musical theatre voice balanced with goof humour charmed the audience during belters ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ and ‘I Can Hear The Bells’. Love interest Link Larkin (Conor Mellor) channelled Zac Efron’s portrayal impeccably, although with a far more powerful and agile voice. Robyn McIntyre particularly impressed as spoilt princess Amber von Tussle with her sharp dancing and spiteful asides. It was a shame that Toni Feetenby’s fantastic vocals in her portrayal of Amber’s pushy mother were slightly marred by her repetitive jerky arm movements. Maya Bartley O’Dea’s début perfectly captured Penny Pingleton’s awkward comic value- and bounced off Jemal Felix’s Seaweed J Stubbs brilliantly.
The talented cast and impeccable choreography all combined to create a high energy performance- and for a musical which tackles the delicate issues of race relations in the ‘60s, energy is paramount in order to keep up the fun and light tone which Hairspray is known for. There were a few hiccups and collisions in ensemble numbers, suggesting that the cast were still getting used to the performance space, but this didn’t phase the performers as they ploughed on with aplomb. The band were absolutely on point, supporting the cast without overshadowing enhancing the comic delivery of many of the lines.
For a few of the principal cast members, perhaps it was the first night nerves and lapse in energy that got the better of their vocal chords as they struggled to hit the high notes. A few of the Baltimore accents started to wonder as the show progressed, one of the only hints that these were not full time professionals onstage. The set rivalled that of its West-End counterpart, encapsulating the sixties with its bright colours and bold lines. A slight fault in Tracy’s ‘Jail Cell’ wasn’t enough to phase Tether and Mellor who carried on with admirable professionalism despite the titters it elicited from the audience.
Joe Wawrzyniak in drag as Tracy’s larger than life mother struck the balance between pantomime dame and musical theatre star perfectly- something which was never more apparent than in his duet with on-stage husband Andy Stone. ‘You’re Timeless To Me’ is always good for a few laughs and this was fully exploited by Wawrzyniak and Stone as they achieved raucous laughter from the audience.
In all, this hugely talented young cast captured the vibrancy of Hairspray with their vigour- it was clear they enjoyed performing this feel good show as much as the audience enjoyed watching it.