HAIRSPRAY is in the air all over Yorkshire this spring, proving once more that you can't stop the beat, but the other productions will have to go some way to beat York Stage Musicals' knockout show.

Monday's press night was packed, drawing as many as 16 reviewers too, in a further testament to the pulling power of this spin-off Broadway musical from John Waters' cult 1988 movie and the 2007 film remake with John Travolta in the cross-dressing role of ironing lady Edna Turnblad.

Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's show, with fizzing Sixties music by Mark Shaiman and smart, sassy lyrics by Scott Whitman and Shaiman, is set in the days of black-and-white television in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962, but Scenic Projects' stage design could not be more colourful. Even Austin Powers' groovy parties would look understated amid the Pop Art primary colours and polka dots.

High-tech yet retro, the fabulous staging conveys the bright lights and bubblegum dreams of the young stars of the TV talent contest introduced by slick charmer Corney Collins (Darren Roberts).

In this black-and-white TV world, however, black and white shall not meet, and the TV station's segregation policy stretches beyond colour to take in the likes of plump teen rebel Tracy Turnblad (Maya Tether).

Tracy is not only determined to prove "fat girls can dance" but that Corny Collins's show should be integrated. On one side of the divide are Tracy; outspoken mum Edna Turnblad (Joe Wawrzyniak) and kindly joke shop-owning dad Wilbur (Andy Stone); pocket dynamo best friend Penny Pingleton (Maya Bartley O'Dea); hip-swivelling black college pupil Seaweed J Stubbs (Jemal Felix) and the sage, savvy DJ, Motormouth Maybelle (gospel-singing Jess Gardham).

On the other are the wannabe pageant queen, spoilt-brat Amber (Robyn McIntyre) and her bigoted mother, the TV show's shrewish, shrill producer Velma Von Tussle (Toni Feetenby).

Torn between pin-up girl Amber and indefatigable Tracy is the TV show's Elvis-lite pretty boy, Link Larkin, played by Conor Mellor with a honeyed voice and cute, dimples-in-his-cheeks appeal.

Mellor is but one bright spark in director-choreographer Jessica Hardcastle's tremendous cast for this broadly humorous, savagely witty and highly energetic account of Waters' flamboyant nostalgia spoof.

Wawrzyniak's Edna is no man in drag or pantomime dame and nor should he be: he is a man playing an irrepressible woman with serious respect and polished comic timing; Stone's loving Wilbur is a delightful foil.

Tether's Tracy is plucky, spunky and funny and sings like a Helen Shapiro; McIntyre's Amber is dressed in yellow but red with rage; Feetenby's harsh, shocking Velma is poisonous villainy personified; Felix's Seaweed is sweet soul music in motion.

York blues singer Jess Gardham returns to musical theatre for the first time since teen student days to excel as Motormouth, big of voice, big of personality, belting out I Know Where You've Been with gospel mouth almighty.

Add Janet Hull and Paula Grosvenor's costumes for Edna, Hardcastle's choreography for the vibrant ensemble, Adam Tomlinson's well-grooved and well groovy band, and Hairspray rocks.


Hairspray, The Broadway Musical, York Stage Musicals, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at