The international musical phenomenon Hairspray returned to Sunderland Empire having broken box office records, raking in a raft of awards and delighting audiences in the West End year after year. 

Sunderland Vibe went along to review this smash-hit-musical comedy. Here’s what we thought… 


What is it about?


Local Sunderland lass Katie Brace plays Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray at the Sunderland Empire


Set in Baltimore during the 60s as Cold War anxieties rage on and the Civil Rights Movement sweep across the U.S., Hairspray takes us on a thrilling journey with the story of the effervescent heroine, Tracy Turnblad.

Boasting a big heart, big hair and big dreams, Tracy is obsessed with her ambition to dance live onto national TV and win the love of her crush, Link Larkin. 

Soon enough, through sheer persistence and talent, Tracy becomes a local star from her appearance on The Corny Collins Show and uses her newfound stardom to fight for liberation, tolerance and interracial unity. 


Who stars? 


The cast of Hairspray at the Sunderland Empire


First and foremost, a huge congratulations to local Sunderland lass, Katie Brace, who stole the show with a triumphant performance on what was her professional acting debut as Tracy Turnblad. 

Her performance oozed charisma throughout and she treated the Empire to a rip-roaring performance that showered the audience with infectious joy all night long. 

Other standout performances arrived in the form of Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle; her powerhouse, silky-smooth vocals rocketed to every crevice of our 115-year-old theatre in a thrilling showing.

Rebecca Thornhill, the Olivier Award-nominated actress stars as the snobbish, narcissist and obnoxious main antagonist, Velma Von Tussle. Her performance was fantastically acerbic alongside Jessica Croll (Amber Von Tussle) in which this dynamic duo served up a devilishly-good treat for the audience.

Notable mentions include Alex Bourne and highly successful comedian, Norman Pace, who lead as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. This mighty pairing reduced the Empire to raptures with their riotous routines, tongue-in-cheek humour, beautifully timed impromptu humour and off-the-cuff crowd interaction. 


What’s good about it?



Using the power of theatre to entertain and educate, Hairspray is a soul-enriching, life-affirming joyride that serves as a timely bookmark of the progress made for civil rights, and the work that still needs to be completed to eradicate racial inequality. 

Other themes such as body-shaming, segregation and prejudice are intertwined within the dialogue and musical scores, a subtle manoeuvre that’ll help start the conversation on these issues still present in the 21st century. 

It’s a production bursting at the seams with enlightening dance numbers, kaleidoscopic costumes and a raucous live band. In essence, Hairspray is a vivacious pleasure trip that’ll have you singing along from the outset and throughout. 

Featuring some of musical theatre’s biggest and most-loved tracks including Welcome To The 60s, You Can’t Stop The Beat, Good Morning Baltimore and so many more crackers, Hairspray at Sunderland Empire, simply put, is unmissable.


When is it on? 



Hairspray is running at Sunderland Empire until Saturday 15th January 2022. 

The entire production has a running time of 2 hours 30 minutes including the interval and tickets start from as little as £13 which can be bought via the link below.

Photography: Mark Senior


Have you got tickets for Hairspray at Sunderland Empire? Get in touch online. Twitter: @SunderlandVibe, Instagram: @SunderlandVibe, Facebook: @SunderlandVibe.

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