Theatre in Wales

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Audience on Their Feet

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Aberystwyth Arts Centre- Hairspray , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August 1, 2012
Aberystwyth Summer Musical by Aberystwyth Arts Centre- Hairspray “Hairspray” closes with the most ecstatic scene to have played on Aberystwyth's stage. “You can't stop the beat” sings the entire cast. Indeed you can't; Arts Centre house staff report that the sheer gusting energy is bringing the audience to its feet night after night.

It is a big sound from a big company. Producer Alan Hewson and director Anthony Williams have swelled the company this year to thirty-one in number. “Hairspray” is about the drive of the young to force the pace of racial integration in 1962 Baltimore. It is a young person's story and it is a young person's production too. It has always been company practice to sift the cast with local performers. In “Hairspray” they take a more leading role than ever. Stand-out are Elin Pavli-Hinde and Joseph Scannell whose dancing shimmers with grace and energy.

A script is animated by a good villain. Lori Haley Fox does Velma Von Tussle with a luscious relish. She delivers an imperious “Back!” to any who challenge her ethos of “we must lead the kids in the white direction.” Her horror at finding a protégé tempted into Motormouth Maybelle’s Record Shop emits a sound between a wail and a whine. She attacks a pimple which threatens her daughter’s chances in the performance contest. As daughter Amber, Beth Angharad is a mini-Mum with her piled-high blonde hair, her little trip of a walk and haughty squawk of a voice.

Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book is a bit of a fairy tale in which chubby Tracy wins both success and love. As her parents Andrew Agnew’s twinkling, bulked-out Edna towers over Morgan Crowley’s Wilbur. For “You’re Timeless to Me” he makes the transition from good-hearted inventor in a yellow-spotted bowtie to a dapper and romantic tango-dancer.

Anthony Williams has boldly given first opportunity to a cluster of new performers. Jenny O’Leary gives Tracy an irrepressible bounce of optimism. Oliver Ormson’s Link has a vulnerability beneath the matinee good looks and mile-wide smile. Samantha Giffard’s Penny has two crimped sprigs of ponytail. Under the tuition of Arun Blair Mangat’s sensuous Seaweed her gawky character loosens up to the new music.

“Hairspray” may appear a happy fable. Even a Baltimore jail is not that scary. But the story is racial division. The kids may come dressed in a sea of bobby socks and bows, flared skirts and stiff hair. But Maybelle knows the world, “a whole lotta ugly coming at you from a never-ending parade of stupid.” Scott Whitman’s and Marc Shaiman’s score includes one searing number “I’ve Know Where I’ve Been”. It is delivered with soul and passion by Marion Campbell. Anthony Williams quietly projects images of Rosa Parks and buses set alight as a reminder of the reality of the 1962 backdrop. The richness of vocal texture is filled out by the Dynamites trio, Treyc Cohen, Danielle Steers and Sharon Wattis.

Ali Allen’s design breaks the stage up into four levels, backed by a Baltimore street corner. Michael Morwood leads the band, who are divided in two and play from two within giant aerosol canisters. The music starts with a rasp from Rhodri Taylor on reeds and continues with twenty numbers of pulsating joie de vivre. These really are “the Nicest Kids in Town”.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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