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You really can’t stop the beat with Broadway Across Canada’s Hairspray

By Daman Singh, Valery Perez, March 23 2024—

Broadway Across Canada’s production of the modern classic Hairspray takes you on a journey through Tracy Turnblad’s overnight success and her rally against racial segregation on live TV. A journey full of funky tunes, a memorable cast and of course — hairspray. 

With the opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” you’re immediately transported to Turnblad’s world set in 1962. In a fantastic introductory performance by Caroline Eiseman, Tracy takes you on a tour through the rat-filled streets of Baltimore. 

Skyler Shields as Link introduces himself with a bang! A memorable, sexy and suave performance of “It Takes Two” pulls the viewers in as we experience the exact same attraction Tracy does. His charm hypnotizes us into subconsciously being pulled towards him, like a siren song. Unfortunately, this charm then disappears for a while after. Shields gives a flat performance as he gets through his dialogue for most of the play. His redemption comes once he breaks into the prison to rescue Tracy. An enticing performance of “Without Love” leaves us fanning ourselves to calm down as he declares his love out loud. 

If you’re any familiar with Hairspray, you expect Seaweed J. Stubbs to be as iconic as that name is. Josiah Rogers lives up to the expectation and more in his take on the classic role. There isn’t a single dull moment with him on the stage, you’re consistently reminded of how good of a performer he is. From the dance moves he uses to “attract the opposite gender” to his performance of “Run and Tell That” — objectively the best performance of the play — Rogers makes sure your eyes are on him at any given time he’s on stage. His charm as Seaweed is unmatched, and you fall in love with him as Penny Pingelton does throughout the story.

The same can’t be said for the other iconic Black characters. The Dynamites are nothing more than a random trio of dancing women whose role is never explained. Motormouth Maybelle is not really highlighted as an important employee of the station, leaving new watchers wondering why she has so much pull in sneaking the character in for the final act. 

In the 2007 film, Little Inez has a more prominent role as she dreams of one day being a member of a fully integrated dance crew on the Cornie Collins Show. This dream is ripped away from her when the threat of Negro Day being cancelled becomes a reality. Her tale comes full circle when she wins Miss Teenage Hairspray over Tracy and Amber, and secures the spot of lead dancer in the Cornie Collins Show. This does not happen in the play, leaving Little Inez to be a sort of insignificant background character. This is disappointing for more than one reason, one being that Kaila Symone Crowder’s incredible voice did not get multiple instances to shine as it should have. Her part in “Run and Tell That” was so incredible, in such a short time she managed to truly showcase her strong vocal capabilities and leave us wanting so much more. 

Though the show came before the movie, this does not mean there isn’t room for improvement to the show by updating the storyline and adding depth to the other amazing characters that felt a bit forgotten. 

The real standout of the show was Scarlett Jacques as Penny — a splendid mix of awkwardness, singing talent, and impeccable comedic timing. You cannot help but be drawn to her in every scene, regardless of whether she’s the main focus of the scene or a random character in the back. I often found myself looking out for what she was doing, even while another character was taking center stage. 

The production nails the visual experience with their costume designs. William Ivey Long knows exactly how to create a visual experience as stunning as the story. Throughout the play, each and every piece of clothing on that stage was straight out of the sixties — down to the colours and structure. 

As good as the costume design gets, the set design leaves you wanting more. The production’s attempt at creating a stage as visually mesmerizing as the film falls short as they fail to use all their stage space. The background visuals had the potential to create an experience that took you on Tracy’s journey with her, instead, the visuals were bland. In “The Big Dollhouse”, one of the most dramatic and encapsulating vocal performances, the jail set was a disappointment as it was jarring to look at. 

If you’re a first-time watcher, Broadway Across Canada’s production of Hairspray lives up to its reputation as a great musical. However, if this isn’t your first rodeo, you’ll find plenty of aspects to nitpick. Regardless, it remains an enjoyable classic. The show is running from Mar. 19 to Mar. 24 at the Jubilee Auditorium. More information can be found on the Jubilee website.

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