HAIRSPRAY by The ESNA Players
Loughborough Town Hall.
I set myself high expectations from The Esna Players as "Hairspray" is fast turning into one of my favourite modern musicals. Not only did they match my expectations, they exceeded them. I LOVED this show! It was fast, funny, colourful, shiny, sleek, garish and as good as any professional production I've seen. The actors not only got under the skin of the characters, they were the characters for the length of time they were on stage. There were just a couple of sound issues in the first half which are not worth mentioning, so I won't, especially as they were quickly resolved in the second act.
It's 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, plump teenager Tracy Turnblad's dream is to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance show which features TV heart throb Link Larkin, who falls for Tracy. When Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight, and meets a colourful array of characters. She then launches a campaign to integrate the show.
The musical, while being a fun pastiche of 1960's America and the teen culture of the day, also throws up the serious message of segregation and racism which is broken down, thanks to Tracy and her new friends. It gives a positive message of breaking down the barriers against being different, whether it be the colour of the skin or the shape that skin is in.
Let's get to my favourite bit, heaping praise on the Esna Players who worked their socks off with this show,
Emily Canham (Tracy Turnblad), was a dream to watch as our hero and what a strong voice she has, oozing fun and wringing out every bit of energy from Tracy, all with a gorgeous smile on her face.
Robert Bramley-Buhler filled the shoes previously trod by stalwarts of the theatre world such as Brian Conley, Michael Ball, Michael Starke and John Travolta as the cuddly Edna. A woman who ain't gonna stand by and be walked over. Robert played the role just as it should be played, not as a panto dame or as a drag act but as a woman portrayed by a man. Forceful but with some lovely emotional touches and great humour. Just perfect!
Liam Patrick may not class himself as a heart throb, but he received a few wolf whistles and appreciative comments from the audience as Link Larkin, the Corny Collins show teen idol. Liam played the part with just the right amount of narcissistic arrogance and swagger, and his eyebrows were on overtime when in a raised position with just a touch of Elvis's curled lip. Spot on once again.
Neil Ledward (Wilbur Turnblad) proved to be a perfect foil for Edna and, again lived up to my expectations in the duet that Wilbur and Edna perform, "Timeless To Me", which is just one of my favourite comic musical songs. Great lyrics delivered with perfect timing. Squint your eyes and it could be a younger Russ Abbot on that stage.
The Von Tussel mother and daughter pairing of Nicola Scoggins and Nicole Ray drew just the right amount of nastiness to the role with their dislike of "coloureds" and fuller figures, but also allowed us to laugh at them as well as with them.
Rowan Beaumont provided a wonderful gawkiness and nerdiness to Tracy's best friend, Penny Pingleton, another wonderful female comedy role.
There were also a few ladies in the audience who would have stepped into the role of Penny if that meant being in the arms of tall, dark and handsome Aadyl Muller who played Seaweed J Stubbs, son of Motormouth Maybelle, the lady DJ with all the soul, Aadyl has a warm chocolatey soulful voice which is great to hear in this production.
Talking, as I was of Motormouth Maybelle, I could not envisage anyone to pull off this role other than the gorgeous Monique Henry. I knew she has an amazing voice having seen her as Dolores in "Sister Act" and seen her sing as herself, but WOW, when she wrapped her velvet tonsils round the gospel tinged soul belter "I Know Where I've Been", every hair on my body stood up to listen. She looked fantastic and her voice matched her look.
Another actor with a powerful and clear set of vocals is Chris Wilson who played Corny Collins, the archetypal 60's TV host, always smiling, flashing those perfect pearly whites. Chris was a joy to watch perform as Corny and even the slightly risque comments he seemed to make sounded unoffensive. Who else can deliver a line using the term "stiff one" but Corny, and smile through it?
The whole cast, and it is a big one (oops sorry Corny), are wonderful. Brilliant choreography by Carl Brierlry-Edwards, wonderfully directed by Cat Orton, who must have not had an easy job with the size of the cast and the pace of the musical. Great tight sound from the band under the musical direction from Jon Orton. Lighting is all important in this colourful fun show and is in the hands of the very proficient Tom Mowat. I must also mention the stage hands as well who did a sterling job of getting the large scenery items and props on and off stage. Only you will know how difficult that really is.
This is one hell of a brilliant feel good show which will have you dancing out into the streets with an enormous grin on your face and some wonderful songs churning around your brain, Songs such as "Timeless","Good Morning Baltimore","Welcome To the 60's", "Big Blonde & Beautiful" and of course "You Can't Stop the Beat".
Friday and Saturday is already sold out but if you are very lucky you may still be able to get tickets for Wednesday to Friday. This is one show you do not want to miss to get your feel good fix this week. An amazingly talented cast who I know have worked extremely hard to put this show on and boy does it show. My introduction to The Esna Players but I know that it will not be my last....and that is a promise!
"Hairspray" is on at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 18 April 2015