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PATRICK MARMION: Hairspray is back! Michael Ball's back to wow crowds

Michael Ball is back to wow the crowd: PATRICK MARMION reviews Hairspray

Hairspray (Coliseum, London) 

Verdict: Spray it all over 

Rating:

Hairspray could be the musical fix we’ve all been waiting for. 

Starring Michael Ball, Les Dennis and Lizzie Bea, it will be dismissed by some as 1960s escapism. 

But the crowd’s roar at the end of the show this week damn near blew the actors off stage.

Clearly moved, Ball’s pantodame mum, Edna, thanked the audience. 

‘You’ve no idea what it feels like to hear that after so long!’, sighed the man who won an Olivier Award for the role in 2008.

The show’s story is of plus-size school girl Tracy Turnblad (Bea) taking on racial inequality in suburban Maryland.

Hairspray could be the musical fix we’ve all been waiting for. Starring Michael Ball, Les Dennis and Lizzie Bea, it will be dismissed by some as 1960s escapism

Jack O’Brien’s production has jet fuel running through its veins, thanks to Jerry Mitchell’s formation choreography, William Ivey Long’s colourful costumes and David Rockwell’s cartoon sets

It sets the burners going with Good Morning Baltimore, blasts off with Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now and soars into belter Welcome To The 60s.

Jack O’Brien’s production has jet fuel running through its veins, thanks to Jerry Mitchell’s formation choreography, William Ivey Long’s colourful costumes and David Rockwell’s cartoon sets.

Replacing the previously booked Paul Merton as Tracy’s dad, Wilbur, Dennis is a perfect fit with Ball as Tracy’s washerwoman mum.

But this is Bea’s show as gutsy Tracy. She can move, she can croon and she can light the show’s blue touch paper — and possibly ignite the whole West End too.

Heathers (Theatre Royal, Haymarket) 

Verdict: Niche black comedy 

Rating:

Heathers is another 1980s cult movie turned musical, but its dark comedy is far more teenage and niche. 

The film starred Winona Ryder as a High School new girl who seeks protection from three bullies called Heather.

But she falls for Christian Slater’s character JD, who turns out to be a psycho-killer.

Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s musical softens some of the film’s difficult themes with tunes including (‘I want the world to know I love…’) My Dead Gay Son and rock anthem Seventeen.

Heathers is another 1980s cult movie turned musical, but its dark comedy is far more teenage and niche

Andy Fickman’s production has the feel of a school show staged in a red brick assembly hall

Jodie Steele (middle) is cold as a blade as lead bully Heather Chandler, Jordan Luke Gage as psycho JD is a baby-faced Clint Eastwood and Christina Bennington makes a feisty enough heroine, Veronica

Andy Fickman’s production has the feel of a school show staged in a red brick assembly hall. 

Jodie Steele is cold as a blade as lead bully Heather Chandler, Jordan Luke Gage as psycho JD is a baby-faced Clint Eastwood and Christina Bennington makes a feisty enough heroine, Veronica.

I’m just glad I didn’t take my 11-year-old, who might think this is what awaits her at secondary school.

The Hooley – Giffords Circus 

Verdict: A terrific family affair 

Rating:

Giffords Circus is a slick, traditional and warmly welcoming Irish operation touring Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and London.

Inside the grotto-style big top tricks include clog-dancing elves and the Caomhanach Family of pixie tumblers.

Giffords Circus is a slick, traditional and warmly welcoming Irish operation touring Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and London

Inside the grotto-style big top tricks include clog-dancing elves and the Caomhanach Family of pixie tumblers

With a talking dog and pony muscling in on microphones using ventriloquism, it’s all done with an Irish twinkle and set to the whistle, violin and piano tunes of The Joyce Country Ceili Band

My pick, though,was Colm Banus’s routine with half a dozen doves leaping from his puff sleeves. 

And there’s balletic beauty in the aerialism of Cathal O Cearbhaill and Finnian O Fearghail revolving in a hoop overhead.

With a talking dog and pony muscling in on microphones using ventriloquism, it’s all done with an Irish twinkle and set to the whistle, violin and piano tunes of The Joyce Country Ceili Band. 

I pine to be locked up with them in a pub on the Emerald Isle — as soon as Covid allows.

Bach and Sons (Bridge Theatre, London)

Verdict: More growl than Bach

Rating:

The genius composer Johann Sebastian Bach in Nina Raine’s new play starring Simon Russell Beale, comes across as a grumpy old man. 

It’s a show that achieves the dubious distinction of making me like Bach and his work little bit less.

For the devoutly protestant 18th century German, music was an offering to God. 

Yet Raine suggests that Bach’s outspoken first wife Maria Barbara was not greatly impressed. Raine has her scoffing that his mathematical compositions were also ‘boring and smug’.

Nor was JSB much of a family man. His two sons Wilhelm and Carl who follow in his footsteps are respectively over indulged and under encouraged. 

When their mother dies before the interval, they are dismayed to discover that Dad has a pretty soprano to replace her.

Where there might have been story, Raine offers grievance at lesser musicians and rivals, together with lamentation over lost children who don’t seem to mean all that much to JSB. 

And there’s a good deal of very dry discussion of Bach’s use of musical counterpoint: ‘hope filled with pain’ he explains.

Raine writes in modern, four-letter vernacular deliberately at odds with Bach’s ecclesiastical reputation.

‘What is this crap?’ he carps and there’s scarcely a line where the author of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, isn’t f-ing and blinding.

Sir Nicholas Hytner’s production ditches any sense of the divine with battered harpsichord and a piano forte, which move about on marbleised plinths like ice floes.

Despite his warm, cuddly demeanour, Russell Beale’s Bach comes over as a morose introvert who justifies his charmlessness in the name of honesty and the need to work.

Douggie McMeekin as Bach’s favoured, wastrel older son Wilhelm is (as dad says) ‘interesting’ in his dereliction, while Samuel Blenkin is ‘more correct’ as the hard working, less talented younger son who tries to rise above his neglect.

More mischievous is Pravessh Rana as King Frederick The Great who relates a disturbing childhood and amuses himself by toying with the fearfully obsequious Carl. Pandora Colin’s Maria Barbara despairs of her husband’s attention, while Ruth Lass is movingly desiccated by devotion to him.

It’s remarked that everyone loves Bach ‘unrequitedly’, but Raine never shows why. I still love his music – I think – but I may have to forget this play to carry on doing so.

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