THIS is the third show I have seen by BODS in the past 18 months, and after the last one I said I would travel a long way to see anything by this talented amateur group. It was therefore with great confidence that I sat expectantly in the Theatre Royal auditorium tonight, after such recent theatrical highs as Peter Pan Goes Wrong and Wicked. I was not disappointed in any way at all.
Hairspray began life as a late 80s John Waters film featuring Ricki Lake, Divine and Debbie Harry, and was a cult success, the sort of film you would find late on a Saturday night on BBC2 introduced by critic Alex Cox. In 2002 it became the material for a musical which took Broadway by storm, winning eight Tony awards, and being made into a film itself, starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer, and the musical continues to tour at professional level, most recently with Mark Benton in the role of Edna Turnblad, carrying on the tradition of the role being played by a man from Divine through to Travolta. It tells the tale of an overweight white girl who wants to be part of a weekly television music show, despite the prejudice of the time, and whose innocence about the integration of black people into the show leads to protest, imprisonment, and, in the tradition of the great musical, a happy ending.
BODS continue to impress with the high standard of acting, singing, musicianship and dance, and this show is no exception. Anyone living in the area is so lucky this week to be able to see Wicked at Bristol and Hairspray at Bath, as I have done in the past six days; two definitive productions of landmark shows. In the lead role of Tracey, Sophie Louise Smith shines personality and light, and the whole audience clearly warmed to her. Her singing is lyrical and sensitive, from slow ballad to powerful rock anthem, her dancing is as slick as the rest of the cast, and she inhabits the part with a delicate accuracy, winning our sympathy at every level. Her mother Edna is played by Tristan Carter, and this is an amazing performance, far from a “man-in-a-dress” Pantomime Dame, and at times, particularly during a song between three girls and their three mothers, we forget the part is being played by a man. As Wilbur Turnblad, Rob Dallimore is Carter’s equal, at least, and in the wonderful love duet You’re Timeless To Me they both showed their skillful acting, singing and dancing.
There was not a single weak link in this show, and all characters were brought to life so well by the cast, from Motormouth Maybelle, played by Natasha Green with such a soulful, jazzy voice, and the delightful crooning of both Steve Bean as sleezy show host Corny Collins and vocal star of the TV show Link Larkin, played by Lucas Porter, who could also bring honesty to a love song, to the beautiful voices of Jonny Dick as Seaweed and Maisie Carter as Amber. I could list every character, but take my word for it that everyone brought something to their role, something positive, something which when combined with the energy and commitment of the others helped to create an evening full of excitement, pathos, emotion, and entertainment.
What a privilege to see this show, played to perfection, with a band that could tour on its own as a Big Band, under Musical Director Peter Blackwood, slick dance routines featuring more than thirty people at times choreographed by Natasha Jones and all tightly directed with a slick efficiency by Juliette Coad. BODS will find it hard to top this show, but I am sure they will find something, and my recommendation stands – if you see anything advertised by them, go – you will not be disappointed, as in their trustworthy hands the word “amateur” loses its meaning completely.