Broadway Across Canada
Hairspray music by Marc Shaiman, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman

When and Where April 2-7, 2024; Tues - Fri at 8pm, Sat at 2pm and 8pm & Sun at 1pm and 6:30pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Director Jack O’Brien Choreographer Jerry Mitchell Music Director James Dodgson Scenic DesignDavid Rockwel lLighting Design Natasha Katz Costume Design William Ivey Long Sound Design Ken Travis Projection design Daniel Brodie

Cast: Tracy Turnblad Caroline Eiseman Prudy Pingleton/Gym teacher/Matron Amy Rodriguez Link Skyler Shields Seaweed J. Stubbs Josiah Rogers Little Inez Kaila Symone Crowder Penny Scarlett Jacques Velma Von Tussel Emmanuelle Zeesman Amber Caroline Portner Edna Turnblad Greg Kalafatas Wilbur Ralph Prentice Daniel Motormouth Maybelle Deidre Lang The Dynamites Ashia Collins, Leiah Lewis and Kynnedi Moryae Porter

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Fast, fun and very loud, Hairspray spritzed its way onto the QE stage with charm and pizzazz. Set in Baltimore in the early years of the civil rights movement schools have been integrated, after a fashion, and the local TV station’s Dance program features a monthly Negro Day. Our hero, Tracy Turnblad, is a girl of generous proportions, large ambition, strong character and big hair. The last gets her into trouble in school and the first means she is considered too fat to even audition for The Corny Collins Show. But in the school’s detention room she meets Seaweed J. Stubbs (Josiah Rogers), a Black student who teaches her some new moves. That’s all she needs to seize opportunities and storm fortresses.

No mean belter-out of songs, as witnessed by the first number, “Good morning, Baltimore” Caroline Eiseman as Tracy also showed a talent for comedy with the fantasy number “I Can Hear the Bells.” The object of her affection, Link Larkin, the high-school’s heartthrob, was intelligently played by Skyler Shields. Link is torn between his admiration for Tracy and his current girl-friend Amber von Tussle (Caroline Portner). “It Takes Two,” a duet for Tracy and Link was earnestly lovable. Portner herself showed comedic flair in "Mother I’m a Big Girl Now", in which three daughters, Amber, Tracy, and Tracy’s best friend Penny (Scarlett Jacques) argue with their mothers, Velma (Emmanuelle Zeesman), Edna (Greg Kalafatas), and Prudy (Amy Rodriguez).

Emmanuelle Zeesman is deliciously snide and spiteful as the venomous Velma, with a great showstopper “Miss Baltimore Crabs".Cross-gender casting has given Greg Kalafatas a gem of a part as Tracy’s mother, Edna, a gentle giant of a woman who, like most of the characters in this show, eventually blossoms. Kalafatas plays it straight, depicting the plight of the large woman without histrionics or comic efforts and is all the more touching for it. And he can sing and dance up a storm as well. Together with Ralph Prentice Daniel, who shines with sincerity as her husband, Wilbur, they almost steal the show in the witty, schmaltzy “You’re Timeless to Me.”

Belting out the stirring “I Know Where I’ve Been” Motormouth Maybelle (Deirdre Lang) runs them a close second. Almost forgotten is her daughter, Little Inez (Kaila Symone Crowder). Inez also auditions for the Dance show and is also turned away on sight. She plays little part in the plot until near the end when she shines.

Constantly off the beat, Scarlett Jacques is delightful as Penny, Tracy’s loyal but klutzy friend. The dancing chops she displays in the finale serve as a reminder that it is really difficult to appear to dance badly. Jacques pulls it off. Seaweed (Josiah Rogers) has every opportunity to show off his dancing skills and demonstrate them he does, his agile body seemingly boneless.

This is an ensemble show, evenly written to give everyone a showcase moment, a character arc and a happy ending. Even the abhorrently racist Velma gets a promotion – as head of cosmetics for African Americans. As a piece of historical fiction, it is also careful to nod to the music of the time. R & B, Motown, pop, blues and rock and roll, spirituals, all make cameo appearances. The seven-piece band under Lizzie Webb played with joy..

This sizzling show explores racial prejudice, social position, social conformity, discrimination of all sorts, grounded in the assumption that the world is growing better.The chaos under the bouffant do can be glossed over and made shiny with hairspray.. The counterculture of Hair is still in the future along with the Viet Nam War. The turbulence of the Civil Rights Movements is barely hinted at. But just for a moment, the fairy tale ending wins.

© 2024 Elizabeth Paterson