London’s West End is dominated by musicals, and they usually have one thing in common, romance. But there is one that has a message, and that is Hairspray.

Hairspray is currently on a UK tour, and at the moment, it has landed in Eastbourne for two weeks. I thought it was just another lively American musical, but I was in for a surprise.

This show stars Michael Clarke of Brookside and The Royal as the buxom Edna Turnblad and Micky Dolenz of The Monkeys as her husband. It has a minor message that size doesn’t matter as their feisty plump daughter Tracy (played by Laurie Scarth) achieves a regular dance spot on a television show.

But the main message is the racial segregation that existed in America in the 1960s, particularly Baltimore where the musical is set. Tracy befriends the black kids who are great dancers and is determined to get them to dance on the show with her, despite warnings she could be sent to jail.

Integration Not Segregation

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that everyone, whatever the colour of their skin, would come together as one. Despite being racked with doubt he followed that dream, suffering the humiliation of being arrested and thrown in a prison cell, constant threats to his life until at last he was assassinated. How proud he would have been that his dream has finally come true and America has its first black President.

In 1955 public transport in Montgomery, Alabama was officially segregated and black passengers were expected to sit at the back of the bus or to stand and let white passengers sit if the bus was crowded, but on the evening of December 1st a 42-year-old black woman Mrs Rosa Parks refused to move and was arrested. Dr Martin Luther King first came to prominence when he led the protest about her treatment, which led to his own arrest and his house being bombed during the 381-day campaign,

In the early 1960s, there were many demonstrations about the hypocrisy of the segregation laws. At Woolworths a black person could buy a tube of toothpaste but was not allowed to eat at the lunch counter.

These facts are taken from the Hairspray programme and are extracts from an article by Stuart Leeks.

The Message in Hairspray

Tracy is always in trouble; she is constantly in detention at school and she befriends the black kids who have dropped out of school, particularly Seaweed (Wayne Robinson) who is a great dancer. He is the son of a DJ Motormouth Maybelle (played by Sandra Marvin who is re-creating the part she played in the West End).

Seaweed takes Tracy and her friend Penny Pingleton (Emma Dukes) plus Link, Tracy’s boyfriend, (Liam Doyle) to a party at Motormouth’s record shop where they all dance together. Tracy is determined to get her new friends on the TV show but Link is too scared of repercussions to help her.

Seaweed and Penny fall for each other, which starts the integration, and Penny agrees to help. They wait outside the studio until the show begins before storming the studio. The inevitable happens and they are thrown in jail, before everyone is released except Tracy and this leads to one of the most poignant songs in the show Without Love.

Of course everything works out in the end with the black and white dancers all performing the finale with one of the most famous musical songs You Can’t Stop The Beat.

It is good to see a musical that is fun, lively, with such a strong message to put over. Martin Luther King would have loved it.


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