Broadway Across Canada’s Hairspray Exemplifies why Live Theatre is so Precious

Broadway Across Canada’s production of Hairspray made its National Arts Centre (NAC) debut last night, where it will run through November 19th. As a man with a shaved head, I was looking forward to seeing a musical named after a product I don’t use.

Based on a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray features music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

The story is set in Baltimore, Maryland, where we meet our protagonist, Tracy Turnblad (Caroline Eiseman). She’s a pleasant teenager who is a big fan of The Corny Collins Show, a popular teen music and dance television programme. Part of Tracy’s routine is rushing home from school every day to watch the show with her best friend Penny (Scarlett Jacques).

Tracy keeps getting in trouble at school because of her ‘inappropriate hair height’ and, as a result, finds herself in detention. While there, she meets Seaweed J. Stubbs (Josiah Rogers), a Black teenager who is unable to appear on The Corny Collins Show. Integration between the races isn’t a priority . . . not in 1962 Baltimore. Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle (Deidre Lang…aka former In Living Color Fly Girl), is the hostess of ‘Negro Day,’ a separate once-per-month all-Black version of The Corny Collins Show.

During detention, Seaweed teaches Tracy some dance moves. Tracy has dreams of being on The Corny Collins Show, but her mother, Edna (Grey Kalafatas), is hesitant because she does not want people to make fun of her daughter due to her larger size.

With her father Wilbur’s (Ralph Prentice Daniel) blessing, Tracy goes to audition and meets many people, including teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Skyler Shields). Corny Collins is taken with Tracy as he sees her as a breath of fresh air, but the director, Velma Von Tussle (Sarah Hayes), is not thrilled. She wants her daughter Amber (Caroline Portner) to have the entire spotlight and certainly doesn’t want her to share it with Tracy or anyone else.

Tracy has dreams of going on The Corny Collins Show and breaking down its racial barriers, while the powers that be would prefer things to remain exactly the way that they are.

Hairspray is A Tony Award-winning musical. It captured eight of the 13 awards it was nominated for, including Best Musical. The staging of the show is fantastic. There are beautiful set designs throughout the performance, and the outstanding choreography makes this show a must-see. The flawless dancing is so infectious that, at times, you find yourself wanting to stand up and dance.

Taking a show that is so respected and loved and breathing new life into it can be challenging, but this touring company does the overall production proud.

Once again, Ottawa audiences are being treated to a Broadway spectacle. The Broadway Across Canada series is such a goldmine of wonderful shows, and with titles like Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Disney’s Frozen, Six and Les Miserables on the horizon, the NAC is clearly the place to be.

At the end of the night, everyone in the capacity-filled National Arts Centre were on their feet, clapping enthusiastically as the cast took a well-earned bow.

My first introduction to Hairspray, which has many iterations, was the 2007 film adaptation starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer. Respectfully to that film, I am glad I had the opportunity to see this production.

Hairspray exemplifies why theatre is so precious. It is the culmination of a great story told by excellent performers in front of and behind the stage.

Twelve hours after seeing it, songs from the show are still being hummed, and you realize what they say is true . . . You really can’t stop the beat.

Grade: B+

Tickets for Hairspray are available at: