Review: Hairspray (London Coliseum)

Some shows will instantly put a smile on your face and Hairspray is one of them. Making a very welcome return to a West End stage a year last year, Ball is clearly having the time of his life revisiting the role he played in the last West End production. Looking fabulous, he has the ability to steal every scene he is in while simultaneously allowing others to take a back seat while others take front and centre. Edna's devoted husband is played by Les Dennis . I must admit, when I first saw the casting I wasn't expecting much but Dennis is a revelation. The chemistry he has with Michael Ball is sensational and leads to one of the shows highlights - the heartwarming and hilarious 'You're Timeless To Me'.


Based on the 1988 film by John Waters, Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad who achieves fame when she fulfills her dream of appearing on The Corny Collins show. Though much more serious themes are played out through this deceptively lightweight storyline. First turned into a Broadway musical in 2002, the show played in the West End from 2007 - 2010. After multiple UK tours, it is now finally back - this time at one of the biggest West End theatres there are - the London Coliseum.



Tracy is played by Lizzie Bea - a performer whose career was hit by the pandemic and left her working in Superdrug. The fact she has gone from selling hairspray to starring in it is an uplifting metaphor - one that can be compared to the character she plays in the show. Holding her own alongside a star cast of legends proves what an immense talent she is. While Tracy shoots to overnight stardom in Hairspray, the same could happen to this brilliant performer.


Returning to the role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy's mother, is the always fantastic Michael Ball. Fresh from playing Javert in Les Miserables last year, Ball is clearly having the time of his life revisiting the role he played in the last West End production. Looking fabulous, he has the ability to steal every scene he is in while simultaneously allowing others to take a back seat while others take front and centre. Edna's devoted husband is played by Les Dennis . I must admit, when I first saw the casting I wasn't expecting muvh but Dennis is a revelation. The chemistry he has with Michael Ball is sensational and leads to one of the shows highlights - the heartwarming and hilarious 'You're Timeless To Me'.



Rita Simons laps up the chance to play the closest thing this show has to a villain in Velma Von Tussle while Georgia Anderson forms the perfect double act with her as Velma's daughter Amber. Other performers including Michael Vinsen as Corny Collins and Ashley Samuels as Seaweed J Stubbs are fantastic in their roles, while Jonny Amies is the perfect Link Larkin, oozing charm and charisma with a sweet voice that leaves you completely understanding why Tracy falls for him.


The standout in this show is undoubtedly the powerhouse that is Marisha Wallace. If you saw her in Dreamgirls or Waitress, you'll know just what a remarkable performer she is. Giving her the role of Motormouth Maybelle is perfect casting. She takes this role and runs with it delivering what could be the definitive version of the character. 'I Know Where I've Been' is an emotional song at the best of times but what Marisha does to it is nothing short of genius. Channelling every ounce of emotion from the song, Marisha performs it with such authenticity, there was not a dry eye in the house and gave her a well-deserved mid-show standing ovation.



Set in the 1960s, themes of racist attitudes are at the forefront of this show. While attitudes may not be as strong as they were in Baltimore back then, sadly as we all know, we still have so far to go when it comes to equality. Events of the past year make this show all the more emotional and reaffirms just what an important story it is to tell.


This version of Hairspray comes with great production value. While social distancing means the cast can no longer run through the audience, the Coliseum's wide stage allows for creative changes to take place and nothing to be lost in the process. The sets are home to some brilliant choreography - all executed flawlessly.



Hairspray brings with it a wealth of iconic songs. 'Good Morming Baltimore', 'I Can Hear The Bells', 'Welcome To The 60's' and 'Without Love' are all incredible songs with barely a moment to catch your breath before the next instantly familiar song appears. Its most iconic number is left to the very end with what is surely one of the best finales of any musical - 'You Can't Stop The Beat' (including a subtle but important lyric change). I defy anybody to be able to stay seated when that song reaches its climax.


If Hairspray can put a smile on your face at the best of times, after this last year it is needed more than ever. More than just your average musical, Hairspray is proof of how healing and therapeutic musical theatre can be and why it is so important. The cast are clearly having the time of their life on that stage and soaking up every bit of it. If we perhaps took amazing shows like this for granted previously, there is no danger of that happening now. Big, bold and beautiful - Hairspray is theatre at its utter best. Completely joyous, this is just what the Doctor ordered. Get yourself down to the Coliseum and check out that great Baltimore sound.



★★★★★


Hairspray plays at the London Coliseum until September 29th with tickets on sale from https://londoncoliseum.org/whats-on/hairspray/