THEATRE REVIEW: Hairspray at Rotherham Civic Theatre

Michael Upton reviews Wickersley Youngstars' latest performance.

THERE are few better experiences at the Rotherham Civic on a damp autumn night than being part of a large, enthusiastic audience lapping up a heart-warming, noisy and downright fun musical.

A year after Steps Productions bowed out with its take on the Baltimore-based, rock n roll-inspired extravaganza, Hairspray was back again, this time in the capable hands of Wickersley Youngstars.

Complex, energetic dance routines, a script packed with zingers and groan-worthy gags, a backing band on top form and a clutch of winning songs made for an evening that flies by and will send you home humming.

Youngstars first-time director Jonny White and his team assembled a talented cast mostly made up of students and their power, presence and professionalism belies their tender years.

But centre stage was Bethan Carter, who shone the challenging role of teen dance show wannabe Tracy Turnblad.

Tracy, who breaks the mould for young dancers on whiter-than-white, teatime dance fest The Corny Collins Show, hankers after the chance to show off her steps and maybe steal a kiss from teen idol Link Larkin.

Her mum Edna (Jonah Thompson, one of a few adult cast members) is broad both physically and in comic terms and assures her people like us dont get that sort of break  but joke shop-owning dad Wilbur (Joe Wood) urges her to follow her dream.

Enter smooth-moving, hip-shaking Seaweed J Stubbs (Kiran Richards), the token minority dancer who only gets to appear on Cornys show on its monthly Negro Day.

Romantic Seaweed, who has eyes for Tracys sweet best friend Penny (Caitlin Osborn), sets Tracy on her way to screen stardom and into the sights of the dashing Link (Aaron McClarence).

At its heart, Hairspray is a classic Cinderella story with memorable songs, great dance routines and a message about rejecting prejudice - whether on the grounds of colour or clothing size.

Opening night was hampered by more than a few technical hitches - feedback from radio mics and some cast members low volume levels affected the sound output more than it should have - but the young cast never skipped a beat.

Bethan Carter, making her Youngstars debut, was simply outstanding, appearing in almost every scene and showing true star quality.

She has a great voice, dances well and made for an engaging, endearing and feisty Tracy.

Able support was provided by McClarences charming Link, Johnsons fabulously catty Amber, Richards athletic Seaweed and Ben Unsworth as Corny - every inch the cheesy TV host.

Hats off also to 15-year-old Maisie Vera, who brought a great set of pipes to the sassy, soulful Motormouth Maybelle, and Thompson for his scene-stealing turn as Edna.

Thompson moved pretty well in a pair of heels and his song-and-dance routine with Wood (kicked off by a clever stage-set trick which brought a cheer from the audience) was one of the shows many highlights.

Credit is also due to musical director David Dixon for overseeing high-class accompaniment to choreographer Lauren Carr’s polished dance routines.

From Good Morning Baltimore through to the storming finale of You Cant Stop the Beat, Youngstars’ show was just like the Hairspray of its title - bouncy and full of volume.

An evening with the self-styled Nicest Kids in Town proved just the tonic for a misty November night.