Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle


Wolverhampton Grand Theatre


Based on John Water’s 1988 film of the same name, the stage version of Hairspray made it’s Broadway debut in 2002 and has been a staple on the touring circuit ever since.

Post pandemic, it was also one of the first shows to come back to the West End, and is still going strong in the capital, starring the seemingly everywhere Michael Ball

On the surface, it’s a feel good fiesta of 1960’s rock ‘n’ roll packed full of bubble gum schmaltz and catchy tunes. Underneath, however, there is serious social commentary on the thorny issue of segregation at a time when integration was far from the norm across huge swathes of America. Whilst the backdrop of toe tapping songs is joyous, the sub text is intentionally less comfortable.

Plot wise it’s all pretty straightforward. Star struck Teenager, Tracy Turnblad (an impressive debut from Katie Brace) dreams of becoming a dancer on her favourite TV show.

Despite being a little ‘bigger boned’ than the show’s usual stick thin dancers, she is determined to make the grade. What she lacks in slenderness, she more than makes up for in boundless energy. Getting accepted for the show, however, is just the beginning as she embraces the platform it gives her and makes it a mission to break down the prejudice she sees. Tracy may be star struck, but she also has conscience.

Tracy at the grand

Katie Brace has dreams a plenty in her debut as Tracy

The tunes come thick and fast, mixing the catchy crowd pleasers like Welcome To The 60s and You Can’t Stop The Beat with tear jerking soulful ballads like the exquisite I Know Where I’ve Been sung impeccably by Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle. You could have a heard a pin drop during that one.

Sharp choreography too from Drew MConie, with routines that bubble with energy and appropriate style. The show’s best known number, You Can’t Stop The Beat, mixes movement and lyrics beautifully and leaves the audience humming the tunes as they leave. Always a mark of a good musical.

Performances are strong throughout. Norman Pace as Wilbur Turnblad eventually brings his established comic talent to the fore on ‘ You’re Timeless To Me, a touching reminder that love endures and prevails whatever age (or shape) we are.

Alex Bourne gives Edna Turnblad a homely likeability and Rebecca Thornhill portrays Velma Von Tussle’s small town bigotry with suitable icy detachment.

What elevates this show above a bog standard juke box musical, is it’s commitment to highlighting social issues. Proof indeed that even the most sugar coated shows can carry a message behind the jazz hands and glitter.

With on an onstage band led by Ben Atkinson, the show fizzes along from start to finish. Just the ticket on a cool Autumn night in Wolverhampton.

The beat goes on until Saturday 22nd. Catch it while you can!

Tom Roberts


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