Hairspray | Review

Hairspray | Review

Grand Opera House, Belfast • 30 October 2017

By Conor O’Neill

Baltimore 1962. Two years before the United States ushered in the Civil Rights Act and saw Martin Luther King receive the Nobel Peace Prize. But CultureHUB isn’t here for history lessons, we’re here to inform you on Northern Ireland’s best and brightest shows.

Perfectly timed for the Hallowe’en school break, the Grand Opera House is hosting Hairspray, the musical stuffed full of fun for all the family. Picking up eight Tony Awards way back in 2003 after dazzling fans on Broadway, the question is, does it still hold its own to Belfast theatre lovers?

If three standing ovations and 1000-plus shaking their booties are giveaways, I’d say, with confidence, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ As a virgin to the show I’ve no other productions to compare it to, but going on tonight’s performance, I’ve no reason to see why with word of mouth the rest of the run will not be as successful as opening night.

As musicals go, there’s a simple yet effective plot at the heart. The under-dog against the supposed superior will always resound as long as stories keep getting told. Overweight or black, who cares, you can still dance like no-one’s watching and get on the TV to boot! Teen-bopper Tracy Turnblad is a huge fan of the Corny Collins Show. With our protagonist winning a spot on the most-watched local show on air, Tracy’s life and that of many others are changed forever.

Every gal needs a beau, every underdog an enemy, every justifiable cause a spark. Enter Link Larkin, the Von Tussles and the family Stubbs. Detention at school means little as a proper stretch in the clink along with rebuttals and the elitist establishment standing in the way of progress and integration ensues. For the most part, there’s very little spoken word. Why say it when you can sing it, and while you’re singing best keep those hips bouncing to keep the planets aligned.

Rebecca Mendoza as Tracy is a fresh graduate from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. The naivety and enthusiasm of youth is perfectly presented and Mendoza is set for a bright future. I did hear the grumblings of one audience member at the end of the show complaining the lead’s performance was a little ‘clunky’. I have to disagree. Certainly besides the likes of Seaweed (Layton Williams), Jon Tsouras (Corny Collins) and Aimee Moore (Amber Von Tussle) any mere mortal would look like a bag of spuds getting off a waterbed by comparison. Vocally, Mendoza can hold her own for one so young. Seaweed’s gymnastics could see him compete in any national athletic event, add to that his vocal abilities and he’s most likely got work secured for the next three or more years. Speaking of voices, Motormouth Maybelle played by Brenda Edwards is living proof that Simon Cowell has indeed added something of worth to the nation. Getting to the 2005 semis has led to better things than a one album deal soon to be forgotten by the fickle public. Edwards’ rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been is the pinnacle of what’s on offer here. 20 songs in total will move your lips or most likely your hips uncontrollably.

The music and choreography are again what you would expect from a West End hit. Choreographer, Drew McOnie, has each foot and arm where they should be, thanks in kind to the well-drilled musicians under the conductor’s baton of Ben Atkinson. Director Paul Kerryson and all who took to the stage as well as those behind the curtain should be well chuffed with their performance. The Belfast audience certainly lapped up every second.

The political bent is not forced down the throat, the glitter is in abundance and for the best-turned ankle I’ve seen on a man in yonks, Matt Rikon’s portrayal as matriarch Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mother, is the question that keeps on asking you to guess and guess again.

Hairspray runs at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, November 04 with matinees on Wednesday Friday and Saturday afternoon. For booking details visit or phone the box office on 02890241919.

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