Dec 6 2019 | By More

★★★★☆  Energetic

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 4 – Sat 7 Dec 2019
Review by Sarah Moyes

The Balerno Theatre Company go back to Baltimore in the swinging 60s for their uplifting and energetic production of Hairspray at the Church Hill Theatre to Saturday.

The company has chosen to move away from its traditional pantomime this year and opted for a family-friendly musical. To some it might seem like a risk given how much appetite there is for a pantomime during the festive season, but judging by the packed audience it hasn’t put anyone off.

Sarah Montunato. Pic Hannah Wilson

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2002, follows the same plot as the John Walters’ movie it is based on. In Baltimore in the 1960s, teenager Tracy Turnblad, is pursuing her dream of becoming a dancer on the youth TV programme, The Corny Collins Show. Overnight she becomes a local celebrity and uses her new found fame to lead the campaign for the show’s integration.

It’s down to Sarah Montunato to open the show in the lead role of Tracy Turnblad with one of the musical’s most well known songs, Good Morning Baltimore. And open it she does with a hugely entertaining and confident performance.

It’s not long before Tracy finds herself in an open audition for The Corny Collins Show and starts to meet some of the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.


The show’s producer Velma Von Tussle played by Lorna Frier and her daughter Amber played by Marcie Robertson take an instant dislike to Tracy, and do everything in their power to keep her from becoming a regular dancer on the show. However, nothing can stop a determined teenager who shocks everyone by announcing she wants every day to be Negro Day live on television.

The cast of Hairspray. Pic Hannah Wilson

From issues of body image to racism, Hairspray has its work cut out to present such serious issues in a way that is entertaining and easy to digest. But even when most of the female cast find themselves in jail for protesting over the shows lack of integration, they still manage to give a stomping performance of The Big Dollhouse.

Among what is a very strong cast, it’s Jessica Kelly-Hannon and Leon Maxwell who shine through in the roles of Penny Pingleton and Seaweed J Stubbs, an absolutely adorable couple who impress vocally on Without Love alongside Tracey and her love interest Link Larkin played by Mark Jones. Another stand out vocal comes from Althea Stentiford as Motormouth Maybelle on the emotionally powerful I Know Where I’ve Been.

steal the show

Throughout the show Tracy is supported by her loving parents Edna, performed in drag by Glen McGill, and Wilbur played by Ade Smith. And while their role might be small in the first act, they come to steal the show on their sweet and endearing second-act show-stopper: You’re Timeless To Me.

Leon Maxwell, Althea Stentiford and Bola Matilda Okeowo. Pic Hannah Wilson

Hairspray is a huge musical production, yet this local theatre company with new director Graeme Shield at the helm have successfully managed to transfer it to the Church Hill Theatre. The simple set depicts the bright buildings of Baltimore and other props including the giant hairspray can look really effective.

It wouldn’t be Hairspray without You Can’t Stop The Beat and the final song in the show is a bright and colourful celebration as the song echoes around the Church Hill Theatre. And while the final bow that follows seems a bit flat and disorganised in parts, we’re soon up on our feet cheering all over again as the reprise of You Can’t Stop The Beat ends the show in style.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes (including interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 December 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mat, Sat: 2.30pm
Tickets and details:  Book here.

The cast of Hairspray. Pic: Hannah Wilson


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  1. Laura Reed says:

    In addition to the wonderful 4 star review from Sarah Moyes, also worthy of mention is the choreography, which was tight and well executed throughout.

    A complicated piece such as Hairspray relies very heavily on good, sound choreography and I must say that Debbie McConnell more than delivered. Congratulations on an all round fabulous show!