1962…JFK was in The White House…John Glenn was in orbit…Cadillacs had fins
…Beehives were in
…And girls really knew how to tease!
Bringing arresting Broadway and West End glitz to Oxford, Hairspray is simultaneously endearing, moving, and rousing. Bursting with bright colours and tall beehives, the cast and band of Hairspray had everyone in the New Theatre on their feet yesterday. Paul Kerryson's production of John Waters's film combines the timeless story of that awkward transition from teenage-hood to adulthood, within the context of the clashing chaos of 1960’s musical, political and social upheaval.
Plump Tracy (played by Freya Sutton with equal measures of sweetness and rebelliousness) dreams of love, and rock-and-roll fame but she finds herself discarded - prevented, together with a black girl, from auditioning for the Corny Collins Show: a show where young white, size zero, heterosexual, teens dance to the latest music. After her rejection, Tracy evolves from lust-full teen, to civil rights campaigner in her attempts to enable mixed-race dancing. Tracy's character is loosely based on the white civil rights and anti-apartheid activist, Danny Schechter who in 1963, at the age of 21, led a campaign to denounce segregation in Baltimore, including on television and specifically on The Buddy Deane Show. Her cheerful zest –- manifested through jumpy leaping moves inspired by her black co-students and exploding music (the band is perfect throughout) -– is inspiring. The bubbly renditions of 'Welcome to the 60s', 'The Madison', and 'Big, Blonde and Beautiful' - and the strong horns - carry us through to the inevitability of progress and change. To offer comic relief, Tony Maudsley (Tracy's mother, Edna Turnblad, in a panto-esque role) consistently had the audience roaring with laughter. Other performances of note include Ashley Gilmour who - as Link Larkin -is the object of Tracy's love, is magnetic, as is Dex Lee who plays Seaweed, Tracy's co-conspirator in their campaign for integrated television programming. Motormouth Maybelle's (performed by Brenda Edwards) 'I know where I’ve been' was even given its own standing ovation. The live show captures the urgency, and earnestness of the characters, while the live band brings a buzz and depth of sound that usurps even the power of film.
I often hear it said that the personal is political. Tracy's personal story of growth through action is fun, but it is also politically moving. Hairspray left me with a profound sense of joy at all that has changed since 1960s; the days when Woolworth's prevented black people from eating at the same lunch counters as white folk. But it also left me with much motivation to change what remains the same, and the continued need to joyfully and cheerfully - while smiling, dancing, moving and shaking - seek justice and equality today.