REVIEW: Hairspray, Sunderland Empire, until March 9

A scene from Hairspray
A scene from Hairspray
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IT’S BIG, it’s bold and it’s beautifully executed – Hairspray is a show bursting with life.

The follicle feat hairstyles may be stiff as a board but the acting certainly isn’t in this musical which transports Empire audiences to 1962 Baltimore.

Linchpin - or should that be bobby pin - of the piece is Freya Sutton as hefty heroine Tracy Turnblad. This is Freya’s first foray into the professional theatre world, though you would never know. The 22-year-old newcomer was effervescent to watch and I defy anyone not to root for her as she embarks on a quest to dance on her favourite TV show and woo the man of her dreams with her hip-thrusting moves.

Former Eastenders actress Lucy Benjamin also shone as Tracy’s arch nemesis Velma Von Tussle showing off vocal talents and a knack for comic timing that - for obvious reasons - remained hidden in her most famous role as downtrodden Lisa in the BBC soap.

Mark Benton also makes the transition between TV and theatre with ease as he steps into the super-size frocks of Edna Turnblad. She’s such a lovable character that you almost forget she’s played by a man, until the deep voice kicks in, and the tracks in which she features, such as Welcome to the 60s, are among the highlights of the show.

At its heart, Hairspray deals with serious issues such as racism and sizeism but it serves to shine a light on how silly such prejudice is and ultimately celebrates everyone no matter what their size, shape or race.

The music, of course, is key to this celebration and this show knocks out toe-tapping track upon toe-tapping track.

I was particularly wowed by the soaring vocals of Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle in I Know Where I’ve Been, which made the X Factor look like a school talent show in comparison.

Hairspray certainly held my attention.

Katy Wheeler