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Rating: *****

Palace Theatre, London (2008)

Summary: Truly feel-good musical adaptation of cult film

A film by bad boy director John Waters, featuring his cross-dressing, overweight muse, Divine, that chronicles the struggle of a large girl trying to get onto an American TV dance show doesn’t sound like a great film. A surprise then, that this low-budget film not only made cult status but also had significant mainstream success.

More of a surprise is that this same film became the basis of a Broadway, and now West End, smash musical; until you see it, that is.

The story is simple – large girl wants to get on teenage TV music show. She also wants to date the show’s current leading male star and in the process tries to break down racial segregation in her home town.

The plot is far convoluted and over-simplifies the actual struggles that went on in the 50’s and are still going on in some places. But that’s not the point – this is not a political play nor is a historical one either; it’s just the tale of a young girl’s desire to get on TV and hang out with her friends, whoever they are.

Take the story with a pinch of salt, ignore how easily people can be convinced to change their ideas and ideals and enjoy the ride. Because this play is a glorious, riotous and feel good event. As with the film the Mother is played by a man (Michael Ball) – who steals the show. But that’s not that easy, because the whole cast put in amazing performances.

The music is stunning. A complete set of new songs that perfectly capture the feel of the era – late 50’s early 60s. The tunes cover a range of musical styles that would have been popular around then, crooner ballands, dance-along rock and roll, funky soul etc. But what makes them work in the musical, aside from progressing the story, is that they’re gleefully catchy… halfway through each song you’ll be getting the urge to sing along, and probably trying to as well.

It’s the perfect family show. It’s fun. It’s funny. It has a good political and moral message (simply told). It has a great cast and great performances. And, above all it will have you leaving the show with a song on your lips and a great big smile on your face. And what could you want from a musical?

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