I’d had these tickets forever. I bought them as an 18th birthday present for my friend Ashleigh who introduced me to Hairspray in the first place – she can do every word, lyric and dance move off by heart. It’s pretty impressive actually. I’d been in a bit of a rut for the past month or so – being cooped up in the house all day with no job and no college is enough to make anyone go stir crazy, so I was really looking forward to going. At the last minute me and my Mum realised that, although we had a fourth ticket, we had forgotten to invite anyone, and so I asked my friend Lauren to come with us to make it a girly night out. I’d been to The Lowry before to see Rolf Harris (don’t judge) so I knew where the stage door was already. We had really good seats – in the stalls and off to the right a bit – and we all settled in to watch the show.
This would be the third time watching Hairspray for me, having watched it once in London and once in Manchester, but I’d never seen the same cast twice. In this particular show Mark Benton, of Waterloo Road, Christmas Lights and that advert with the Gangnam Style baby, would be playing Edna Turnblad. I first saw him on screen when I was about 7 and fell in love with his obvious humour and talent, and I was really excited to see him live. Lauren was more interested in X Factor star Marcus Collins, and Ash just wanted to see Hairspray. I was a bit nervous because Ash is a bit of a perfectionist, and she LOVES the film version of Hairspray. I prayed the stage version would match up to her (very high) standards.
As the distinctive “Good Morning Baltimore” began, I kept my eye on Ashleigh, who was, of course, mouthing every word. Obviously I’d told her that no stage production can be the same as a film, but I was still worried that she’d be disappointed. Freya Sutton who was playing Tracy Turnblad was very good. Lucy Benjamin, who played Velma Von Tussle, was not. I’m always a bit wary of television stars that cross over onto the stage, and her performance showed me why. Whereas Mark Benton’s performance was very understated, Lucy went all out. All the time. It was really embarrassing to watch her throw herself around the stage and pull all sorts of pantomime faces – she just didn’t blend in. It was all very “look at me” which, in a theatre production, is not a good thing.
The interval came around and we huddled up to discuss the show so far. Mercifully, Ashleigh loved it, despite there being slight changes to the running order. Lauren loved how tight Marcus’ pants were. I chatted away about how amazing Mark Benton was. I always go onto twitter during the intervals to put up my opinion of the first act – not that anyone ever reads it, but still. One of my tweets, “loving Hairspray so far – it’s amazing!” was favourited by someone called David Ribi. I thought nothing of it, until one of my twitter friends, Lucy, saw that I was at Hairspray and tweeted “Oh my god, David Ribi is in that performance! He’s amazing!” turns out he was a member of the cast. Oops. I quickly looked him up in my programme and saw that he was playing Sketch, one of the nicest kids in town. Making a mental note to watch out for him in the second act, we sat back and waited.
Ok, David Ribi is amazing. I picked him out almost straight away; he had actually caught my eye in the first act. He’s an incredible dancer with an infectious grin. After a phenomenal second act and a standing ovation from all three tiers of the theatre, the show was over. I’d already warned Lauren and Ashleigh that going to the stage door was non-negotiable, so we headed straight there with my Mum in tow.
There were a handful of people already there, mostly teenage girls waiting for Marcus Collins. When he came out, another twenty girls seemed to materialise out of nowhere. I tried to get out of the way – I’d never really taken to him – and Lauren was doing her best to push herself forward. He had his back to us and looked to be walking away so I thought sod this, and shouted “Marcus!” He turned around and grinned, before signing Lauren’s programme and having his picture taken with her. I had my programme open, ready and waiting for Mark Benton, but Marcus had other ideas. “Let’s get this signed shall we!” he said, turning the page to his photo and signing “love, Marcus x.” Erm, thanks?! I turned the page back over to Mark and kept an eye on the door. David Ribi wandered out and again I thought, sod this, “David!” He looked so surprised that we actually knew who he was! He signed Lauren’s programme and then mine, “To Alison! Love, David Ribi xxx” and we both had our pictures taken with him. Luke Striffler, who played Link Larkin was out next. We’d all agreed that he had the worst American accent out of the whole cast – it turns out he was born and raised in New York. Oops. Again, my programme was signed, “Alison, w/love, Luke” and then it was Lauren’s turn. I love this girl more than anything, but my god she doesn’t half come out with some stupid things sometimes. She was totally overwhelmed by Luke (well, he was gorgeous) and was jigging up and down with excitement and cold. Bear in mind that it was February, in Manchester, at 10:30pm. It was FREEZING. Luke went to sign her programme, and then, this came out. “I’m really sorry, I can’t stop shaking! I’m really excited but I also really need the toilet!” Wow. She’d really outdone herself that time. Luke smiled nervously and walked away whilst me, Ashleigh and my Mum, who had heard everything, collapsed laughing. I mean – really?! What a thing to blurt out!
I figured Mark would be last out because he had to take off the wig, dress, body suit and make up, so we hung around for a bit longer. Finally, he appeared. I do not have a good track record with talking to people I admire, (I met David Tennant and managed “…picture?” before practically collapsing in a nervous heap at his feet) so I was not feeling particularly confident. Luckily for me – Mark was lovely! I managed to get out that I’d been a fan of his for around 11 years, and he gave me a cuddle, had a picture with me and signed my programme, “to Alison, lots of love, Mark.” Lots of love! My life = complete.