Wednesday, October 31, 2007

London Critics Can't Stop The Beat Of Hairspray

London Critics Can't Stop The Beat Of Hairspray

Last evening, after five years of wowing them on Broadway and just months after the film musical opened worldwide, the stage version of Hairspray has finally opened in the West End of London. Overall, critics ate it up.

"Delightful" is how Benedict Nightingale of The Times describes the show in his four-out-of-five star review: "The musical resembles Grease, then? Yes, but only a bit, for Hairspray is wittier, funnier, more good-natured and, without being pretentious, more morally and politically aware....But anyone would forgive the show’s wishfulness, given the ebullience of Marc Shaiman’s rock, which might have been written for and delivered by Elvis himself, and the quality of Jack O’Brien’s cast, which matches its Broadway counterpart for energy."

Describing it as "heaven on earth," Charles Spencer of The Telegraph joins in the praise: "Director Jack O'Brien, who alternates raucous musicals like this with superb revivals of Tom Stoppard at the Lincoln Centre, ensures that sentiment and laughter are mixed in just the right proportions in a show that offers a sugar-rush of pleasure. Jerry Mitchell's choreography is splendidly effervescent and newcomer Leanne Jones, straight out of drama school and making her professional debut, has exactly the right bubble and bounce as Tracy, moving with a lightness of foot that belies her avoirdupois. The show might be less slick than in New York, but there is no mistaking its big, raucous heart."

Calling it "the plump girls' feelgood, romantic comedy of a musical" in his four out of five star review is Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh: "Hairspray...sent the rare, sweet smell of success wafting through the Shaftesbury last night....Leanne Jones, in an astonishingly accomplished stage debut, plays Edna's big-sized daughter, Tracy....It is through Jones's endearingly earnest Tracy, who dances with a lightness belying her size, that links between love, comedy and radical politics are forged....Marc Shaiman's urgent score, with clever, often witty lyrics written with Scott Whitman, keeps Hairspray pulsating with musical excitement as well as political anger."

Proclaiming it a "deliciously fluid production," Michael Billington of The Guardian also offers four out of five stars: "But even if Hairspray, in the process of being turned into a Broadway musical, has lost some of its glorious tackiness, it retains its generous spirit: this is still a show that not only hymns physical difference but also the basic right to racial integration....Where the show really scores is in its ability to integrate serious issues into a lightweight plot. Jerry Mitchell's joyous choreography is the beating heart of the show. There is something dionysiac about it; and, if the show achieves the ecstasy one looks for in a musical, it comes largely through the dance routines."

Taking note that "this exuberant, breathless production chokes all resistance, smothering all in its orbit," Quentin Letts of the cheesy Daily Mail sniffs, "Here is full-squirt, two-dimensional fun, at times almost dementedly full-on. It doesn't tickle you into mirth. It blooming well shoves you."

Sounds like the Shaftesbury Theatre finally has scored a winning musical. Tickets are now available through next October.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Go East, Young Musical, Go East (July 26, 2007)
Hairspray To Brush With West End Style (March 9, 2007)

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