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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 11:54 GMT
Press reviews: Hairspray
Hit Broadway musical Hairspray, winner of eight Tony awards in 2003, has now opened in London's West End.

Based on a 1988 film by maverick US director John Waters, the show tells of an overweight young girl growing up in 1960s Baltimore.

The London production at the Shaftesbury Theatre stars a cross-dressing Michael Ball as the heroine's mother and Mel Smith as her father.

The musical was recently filmed with John Travolta, Christopher Walken and Michelle Pfeiffer in the leading roles. Here is what the critics thought of the show.


This joyous West End version, starring Michael Ball in the role of his life, makes it obvious why it swept the board at the Tony Awards.

Michael Ball and Leanne Jones in Hairspray
Ball (left) dons female drag to play a 1960s housewife
At first Ball is scarcely recognisable as Edna, a put-upon laundress with a 54EEE bust.

It is only when she discovers big-haired glamour that Ball turns on the floodlights, knocking everyone else off the stage.

Don't expect effects or spectacle. This is good, honest song-and-dance fun, where the period pastels on the costumes and sets match the relentless up-beat of the lyrics and tunes.

But the biggest thing about it, apart from Ball's falsies, is its heart.


London's panto season effectively got off to an early start last night with the opening of Hairspray.

It doesn't tickle you into mirth. It blooming well shoves you.

Quite what the anti-obesity industry will make of the girth liberation message, Lord knows.

But this exuberant, breathless production chokes all resistance, smothering all in its orbit.


The mystery about this ebullient and good-hearted show is that it has taken so long to arrive in England, and then only to find a berth at the Shaftesbury - widely regarded as a graveyard for doomed musicals.

Leanne Jones and Ben James-Ellis in Hairspray
The plot revolves around a racially segregated TV dance show
But the audience's whooping response and spontaneous standing ovation suggest it could prove to be the big hit that has eluded the theatre for so long.

The show might be less slick than in New York, but there is no mistaking its big, raucous heart.

Newcomer Leanne Jones, straight out of drama school and making her professional debut, has exactly the right bubble and bounce as heroine Tracy.


Powered by elating 60s dance routines that are so infectious they will have to install compulsory seat-belts to prevent the audience from storming the stage, Jack O'Brien's production lays out perfectly the deal this show makes with the punters.

It's a deliciously droll double-bluff: a giddy, high-spirited spoof of a youthful protest piece that, with the lightness of touches, manages to be the real thing at the same time.

As a fan of the original 1988 John Waters film, I had worried the material would lose too much of its conscious comic tackiness.

In fact, the fat-suited Ball - who is appreciably better than John Travolta in the recently released movie version - gives one of the warmest, funniest and most oddly touching performances in a musical that I have ever seen.

Mel Smith to make West End debut
22 Aug 07 |  Entertainment
Press views: Hairspray
09 Jun 03 |  Reviews
Hairspray wins eight Tonys
09 Jun 03 |  Arts
Hairspray leads Tony nominations
12 May 03 |  Showbiz

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