Review: Kilworth House Theatre serves up another musical masterpiece

Review: Hairspray the Broadway Musical; Kilworth House Theatre; until August 6
An absolute joy... Hairspray is on at Kilworth House Theatre until August 6An absolute joy... Hairspray is on at Kilworth House Theatre until August 6
An absolute joy... Hairspray is on at Kilworth House Theatre until August 6

You think you know Hairspray? Think again…

The Kilworth House Theatre team have conjured up a dazzling, effervescent version of this much-loved musical.

The only downside… you won’t get to sleep in a hurry with a head full of the infectious songs and striking images.

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It’s apparently the first outdoor production of the show and it’s hard to imagine a better setting, with the extra freedom of movement Kilworth allows.

Whether you only know the irresistible chorus of You Can’t Stop the Beat or are a Hairspray veteran, this is a stunning production – and, similarly, if you’ve been to Kilworth before, you’ll know how good it can be and, if you haven’t, well, I bet you come back again.

While the themes of the show, set in 1962 America, have renewed resonance for today’s intolerances, there is no attempt to modernise the format and you’re greeted with a remarkable, bold set that takes you straight off to what you believe the USA of the day was like.

From opening number Good Morning Baltimore, you’re hooked with the pace, the enthusiasm and the energy of the cast.

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And when you see director and choreographer Lee Proud – working with theatre founder Celia Mackay as producer – has been creative director for Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest since 2019, you know you’re in for something special.

While the performances are striking across the board, the vivid and brilliant costumes, the lighting and the music are also vital to the success.

The first half is extraordinary and flies along at an incredible pace, with each new character adding another stand-out moment.

Though dialogue framed for the early Sixties doesn’t flinch from phrases that are awkward to our modern ears, the breaking down of barriers on the dance floor, is, at the same time achieved with plenty of humour.

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At the heart of this progress is Tracy Turnblad, played by Charlotte-Hannah Jones with a warmth and depth where it would easy to be a caricature.

While early in her career, Michael J Batchelor and Steven Serlin added a madcap brilliance as her parents drawn from their considerable experience.

If Batchelor gave hints of the panto brilliance mentioned in the programme, then we had well-drawn baddies, with the Von Tussle mother and daughter double-act of Jenny Gayner and Holly Willock doing everything to ensure they get their comeuppance.

To be frank, to list the performances of note would be a complete cast list but it’s fair to say the person sat by me was taken by Nay-Nay as Seaweed J Stubbs and Biancha Szynal as Penny, whereas I was drawn to Ayesha Maynard as a superb Motormouth Maybelle and Jayme-Lee Zanoncelli as Dynamite 3, wonderful voices both.

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Without giving away the plot, the pace slackens a little in the second half, putting the spotlight on remarkable songs like I Know Where I’ve Been – but we’re soon back with the all-singing, all-dancing spectacular for two doses of You Can’t Stop the Beat to finish.

There’s always something special about outdoor theatre – and not many people do it better than this gem of a venue between Rugby and Market Harborough.

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