Review: HAIRSPRAY–Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont.

by Lynn on December 10, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont.

Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan

Music by Marc Shaiman

Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman

Directed by Mary Francis Moore

Musical director, Reza Jacobs

Set by Patrick Clark

Costumes and provided by Maine State Music Theatre

Lighting by Gail Ksionzyk

Sound by Anna-Maria Grant

Choreography by Robin Calvert

Cast: Brittany Banks

Patrick Brown

Saphire Demitro

Keisha T. Fraser

Aaron Hastelow

Jeremy Carver-James

Hailey Lewis

Monique Lund

Larry Mannell

Andrew McAllister

Jade Repeta

And others..


The Story.  Hairspray is based on the 1988 film of the same name by John Waters. That was then adapted into Hairspray the award winning 2002 Broadway musical, with the book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.

It’s 1962, Baltimore, Maryland. Tracy Turnblad is a teen who just wants to be a dancer on The Corny Collins Show, a local tv show.  When she goes to audition in open auditions she is made fun of by the show’s snooty producer Velma Van Tussle because Tracy is overweight. But Tracy dances with joy and Corny Collins feels she is the kind of participant the show needs.

One day in the year is set aside for Negro teens to participate in the show.  In true open-hearted spirit Tracy also feels that every day should be Negro Day and says so.  She believes that the show should be integrated.  Tracy is encouraged by her loving parents, Edna, a stay-at-home Mom who takes in laundry to help with the finances and Wilbur her wonderful father who owns a joke store. Their decency helps Tracy  deal with the thorny issues of body shaming, segregation and racism.

The Production. This is a local Canadian production of Hairspray playing at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. It is joyful, glorious and beautifully done in every way thanks to the direction of Mary Francis Moore who directs with imagination, sensitivity and humour and all the people surrounding her.

Patrick Clark’s set is beautifully, efficiently designed and bursting with colour. It’s almost akin to Technicolor that makes it all seem otherworldly. But the serious aspects of the show-racism, body-shaming, corruption and bribery—are there in stark relief. Set pieces move on and off with efficiency.

The show starts off with a bang with the up-beat, “Good Morning Baltimore” with Tracy (Saphire Demitro) in bed. The scene is presented as if we are looking down from the ceiling as Tracy wakes up. In fact she’s standing up with the bed behind her as if she’s ‘in’ it, with the covers pulled tight around her as she sings. Then she flips the covers aside, ready to greet the day. Saphire Demitro instils a joy and optimism in Tracy that makes her indomitable. Her voice is strong and her dancing is effortless. She presents a character who is easy to love she is so open-hearted.

Patrick Brown plays Tracy’s loving, wise mother Edna—yes a man plays the mother in every production of Hairspray. This is not a camp performance. This is a performance of a large woman (Patrick Brown obviously wears a ‘fat suit’) who has a certain grace but is embarrassed about her size. Edna is a woman who has put her dreams of being a designer aside, to stay at home mending and ironing other people’s clothes. She is wise to the hurts of body shaming and tries to protect her daughter from the same treatment. She and her husband Wilbur (a charming, loving performance by Larry Mannell) have given Tracy the confidence to face the world because of their love.

Monique Lund plays Velma Von Tussle, the condescending producer of the TV show who wants to keep Tracy and people of colour off the show. Velma is the person you love to hate because Monique Lund plays her so well.

Robin Calvert has choreographed an ensemble that is believable in 1962 but does not look dated. The dancers are vibrant and energetic.

The production is classy, smart, joyful. Loved it. See it.

Comment. Hairspray has all the hallmarks of a typical big, blaring Broadway musical: it has a pulsing score by Marc Shaiman; clever lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, and rousing dance numbers. But writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan have written a book full of consequence (and is true to the spirit of the film by John Waters). They have taken the odious subjects of body shaming and racism among others and dealt with them head on.  Director Mary Francis Moore and her splendid company have brought it boldly to the stage. See it.

Theatre Aquarius Presents:

From: Nov. 27, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 24, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.


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