You know you have been to a corker of a show when you wake up the next morning with the songs still buzzing around in your head - and that has definitely been my experience after watching the Cork Opera House’s production of hit musical Hairspray at the Millennium Forum on Tuesday night.
From the very opening notes of ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ to the final, high energy strains of ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ - the cast of this show take you on a unforgettable, and at times irreverent journey into the life of a larger than life teenager in 1960s America, who has a dream not only to dance but to make the world a better place.
If that sounds a little mainstream, believe me Hairspray is anything but.
The main character’s mother is played by a man in drag.
The show contains fattist comments, racist comments and a dose of religious fervour - but remains one of the most feel-good shows you are ever likely to see.
Telling the story of Tracy Turnblad (wonderfully played by the note perfect and step perfect Nancy Hill) - a chubby teenager who dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins Show with the ‘Nicest Kids in Town’ (who turn out to be anything but).
Turned away from the audition for not fitting in due to her size, she finds friendship with the town’s young black dancers - themselves segregated from the rest of the Corny Collins crew due to their colour.
So our Tracy, with determination, humour and the help of her friends old and new, sets about trying to break down racial barriers.
“It’s just so stupid that we can’t all dance together,” she says - putting very simply a issue which still has a certain resonance around the world today.
Of course Tracy’s size is another big factor (pun intended) in the show’s story.
Playing a blinder as Tracy’s overweight and under confident mother Edna is Ciaran Birmingham who carries off the traditional drag role with aplomb.
As the story unfolds we see Edna gain a new confidence and accept her worth - despite her girth (as the song ‘Big Blonde and Beautiful’ highlights).
This show has an element of it all - comedy, high energy dance routines (big girls CAN dance) and pathos. Perhaps one of the most touching, and in turns funny scenes, is the duet between Birmingham as Edna and Michael Grennell as her husband Wilbur in which they inform each other their love is timeless.
It’s also nice to see Tracy get her man in the form of Luke Baker as Link Larkin - and their on screen chemistry is a joy to watch.
For me however the stand out performance was from Claire O’Leary as Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingleton.
Her comedy timing was perfect and for one so small, she sure has a big, soulful voice which filled the stage when she sang.
The audience reaction (cheers of approval and a well deserved standing ovation) was proof positive that Hairspray was a big hit in Derry.
It runs until Sunday, September 7.
For tickets phone 02871264455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.u