The touring production of Hairspray has finally arrived in Milton Keynes after performances were delayed from last year due to the pandemic.
It's been made possible with support from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, and this musical is just the tonic from the challenges we've faced during the health crisis.
The audience is transported back to 1962 Baltimore where we meet Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart. She's on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV by appearing on The Corny Collins Show.
Hairspray is based on the 1988 film of the same name. It originally opened on Broadway in 2002 and has since proved to be an international success. I'm happy to report it went down superbly well last night (Monday) in Milton Keynes too!
Tracy is played by Katie Brace who was excellent throughout. A glance of the show's programme shows her biog to be extremely brief compared to her co-stars and that's because Hairspray is in fact her professional stage debut (I'm sure her résumé with be lengthening before long).
Her character was charming one moment, but also determined and forceful the next. As for her singing, she had us won over from the moment she jumped out of bed to kick things off with 'Good Morning Baltimore'.
When one of the dancers on Corny's show falls pregnant, a window of opportunity opens for Tracy but she finds it hard to convince her mum Edna (the brilliant Alex Bourne) that she should be chasing her dream by auditioning.
This leads to another great number 'Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now' which cleverly split the action and lighting during the song between Tracy and Edna, her best friend Penny Pingleton (Zöe Heighton) and her mum Prudence, plus snobby producer of The Corny Collins Show, Velma Von Tussle (Rebecca Thornhill) and her daughter Amber Von Tussle (Jessica Croll).
With the help of some black students in her school who teach her some of their dance moves, Tracy wins a spot on Corny’s show and is transformed from a nobody into a star.
As well as her fight to earn a place in the limelight despite Velma's declaration there is a "standard of beauty that must be upheld", Tracy also fights to win over love interest Link Larkin (Ross Clifton) from the clutches of an increasingly desperate Amber.
But her biggest battle is to break down barriers and for Corny’s show to end its policy of segregation, a fight that sees Tracy and her fellow protestors end up in jail following a placard-waving demonstration.
Hairspray may boast a youthful and energetic cast, but that's not to say some of the older cast members don't make a huge impact.
Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle doesn't surface until an hour into the production, but when she does Luton's former X-Factor finalist demonstrates those fantastic vocals that impressed Simon Cowell & Co all those years ago.
And a romantic duet between Edna and husband Wilbur (Paul Hutton in the absence of Norman Pace) was the highlight of the evening featuring some great comedy moments including the towering Edna seductively asking tiny Wilbur to carry her up to bed!
My 15-year-old daughter, the reason I'd attended, was won over by Hairspray, long before the 'You Can't Stop The Beat' finale which she was singing all the way home. I fully expect her to emerge from her bedroom with a beehive before the week's out!
Performances run until Saturday, December 4. Book via 0844 871 7615 or here.