Hairspray Review| October 2015


Reviewed by Dr Martin Holtom

Hairspray the musical is based on the 1988 John Waters film with it’s main theme being a social commentary on the injustices of parts of American society in the 1950s and 60s. The musical’s original Broadway production opened on the 25th August 2002, and in 2003 it won eight Tony Awards out of thirteen nominations. It ran for over 2,500 performances and was adapted in 2007 as a musical film.

The London West End production was nominated for a record-setting eleven Olivier Awards, winning Best New Musical and in three other categories, and it was this London production that was my last exposure to this high energy, laugh out loud, life affirming musical which could have set an impossible to achieve expectation for Nottingham Operatic’s production – but to my delight, the performance exceeded my expectations on many levels.

Denise and Stephen together with their enthusiastic, energetic cast, created exactly the right ‘bubble gum – Technicolor’ feel in all aspects of the production including sound design, orchestration, characterisation and diction from every actor which was supported by an outstanding orchestra, superb choreography and costuming of Principals and chorus alike.

Stephen and David had clearly spend considerable attention to detail with the vocal performances of all the Principals with Aston Fisher (Tracy), Lauren Gill (Penny), Alison Hope (Velma), Mark Coffey-Bainbridge (Corney), Aadyl Muller (Seaweed), Lizzy Ives (Amber), Grace Louise Hodgett-Young (Little Inez) and Janine Nicole Jacques (Motormouth) all bringing life, warmth and believability to their characters. Musical highlights included ‘Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now’, ‘It takes Two’, ‘I Can Hear the Bells’ ‘The Big Dollhouse’, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ and the sublime ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’. Personally I would have liked a bit more pace in ‘Good morning Baltimore’ to energise the beginning of the show and in ‘Without Love’ – but that’s just my taste…

Denise expertly choreographed with great precision the high energy numbers and the large ‘chorus’ of Council Members, Community and Ensemble that the society is blessed with without it becoming too intense and confusing – it’s been a very long time since I have seen so many cast members on stage and the visual complexity this allowed for was something to behold!

Mark Coffey-Bainbridge displayed effortless comic timing and Ian Pottage and Dan Armstrong gave virtuoso comedic performances, both acting and vocal, as Wilbur and Edna Turnblad throughout the night and brought refreshing originality to the ‘ad-libs’ in ‘Timeless to me’. The relationship between the parents and Tracy worked well as did those between Tracy and Link which is a difficult role to play alongside such ‘Big’ characters, and which was well developed by Jacob Seelochan throughout the evening.

Lighting and sound supported the production greatly, lighting bringing exactly the right mood to every scene and great sound balance between pit and stage allowing the diction and voices to shine. The Stage crew move seamlessly allowing the scenes to flow at pace and never letting the action drop.

Congratulations one and all – a great production and many thanks for inviting me along.


For those that don’t already know (and due to its popularity there can’t be many that don’t) Hairspray is an award-winning American dance musical with music by Marc Shaiman lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan.

It is based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name.

The lively songs include 1960s-style dance music and some rather ‘hip’ rhythm and blues.

We’re in Baltimore in the summer of 1962 and a pleasantly plump teenager named Tracy Turnblad has a dream of dancing on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance programme.

When she wins a role on the show she becomes an instant celebrity overnight and goes on to meet a range of characters through whom she learns about ambition, love and social attitudes.

Then we get to see the serious side of Tracy as she launches a campaign to racially integrate the show proving Hairspray not only to be a frothy fun story but also a social commentary on the injustices of parts of American society in that decade.

Nottingham Operatic Society present the smash-hit bright and bouncy musical with an exceptionally gifted cast and full orchestral band.

The society have also made an unusually creative move in having a group of unseen singers in the orchestra pit who have been chosen for their fantastic voices and ability to hold difficult harmonies.

With a funky 1960s themed set complete with designs of records and stripes and moveable set pieces, this production, directed and choreographed by Denise Palin and musically directed by Stephen Williams, is a sparkling firework of a hit.

The audience have come for a good time and NOS deliver that… and much more.

Lead character Tracy Turnblad is played with great energy and charm by Aston Fisher. She has bags of personality, a clear note perfect voice and dance moves that make her an obvious choice for the role.

Tracy’s protective mum Edna, played by Dan Armstrong, is a gem, practically oozing American womanhood in his comical but sensitive role.

His song and dance scene with Ian Pottage as diminutive husband Wilbur singing You’re Timeless To Me is one of the highlights of the show.

Amber and Velma Von Tussle (Lizzy Ives and Alison Hope) make a fantastic mother and daughter act. Ives excels at portraying the bitchy shallow glamour of her character and Hope is spot on as Velma Von Tussle – racist producer of The Corny Collins Show.

Hope’s comic performance and singing is one of the cornerstone performances that mark this production with exceptionally professional standards.

Corny Collins (Mark Coffey-Bainbridge) and Link Larkin (Jacob Seelochan) seem to step straight out of the period with their dance moves, singing and attitude.

Janine Nichole Jacques is strong and sweet as Motormouth Maybelle and is very powerful in the song I Know Where I’ve Been.

Handsome young black guy Seaweed J Stubbs (Aadyl Muller) and Penny Pingleton (Lauren Gill) are funny in parts, touching in others. Gill has a fine talent for gawky comedy and her transformation into a vibrant and sexy young woman at the end is stunning.

Full to bursting with terrific numbers such as Good Morning Baltimore, The Nicest Kids In Town, Mama I’m A Big Girl Now, Welcome to the 60s and You Can’t Stop The Beat, Hairspray boasts a main cast of over forty performers aged 13 to 60 and each puts their hearts, voices and souls into the show.

It’s an absolute knockout.

Derbyshire TIMES

The dark cold nights are upon us, but there’s still plenty of feelgood feelings going round Nottingham Theatre Royal this week, writes Daniel Bailey.

That’s because hit Broadway musical Hairspray is in town and if you want a seasonal pick-me-up, this show ticks all the boxes.

There’s a definite local feel to this play by the Nottingham Operatic Society, which tells the story of larger-than-life teenager Tracy Turnblad’s crusade against prejudice in early 60s America.

Her dream is to dance on The Corny Collins TV Show and when her wish comes true, she uses her new-found fame to lead a campaign aiming integrate the minorities.

Plump Tracy (Aston Fisher) is the butt of jokes from school glamour queen Amber Von Tussle (Lizzy Ives) and her pushy mother Velma (Alison Hope), but nothing will stand in her way as she bids to break down the barriers of the whites-only TV show by turning it into a melting pot of inter-racial harmony.

With plenty of singing and dancing, along with some colourful characters and costumes, Hairspray is sure to get you dancing down the aisles thanks to tunes like Good Morning Baltimore, Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now and It Takes Two.

Dan Armstrong provided the comedy moments as Tracy’s sizeable mum Edna, while Jacob Seelochan impressed with his singing voice as hunky Link Larkin.

Janine Nicole Jacques deserves a special mention as DJ Motormouth Maybelle after bringing rapturous applause from the audience with her big number I Know Where I’ve Been.

Mark Coffey-Bainbridge impressed as smarmy host Corny while Lauren Gill blossomed as plain Penny Pingelton in the show’s energetic finale.

This family-friendly musical is full of laughter, romance and wonderful songs, and is proof that this world really needs love and great music.