BWW Reviews: Not Your Typical HAIRSPRAY at Fairview Library Theatre

November 9
10:17 AM 2011



A vigorous and well presented production of the Tony-Award winning musical comedy Hairspray opened last week to one of the loudest and longest ovations I have ever witnessed at Fairview Library Theatre.  The crowd wasn't just cheering the final curtain call. Many individual songs and performances were greeted with the same ecstatic response, notably Andria Lewis as Motormouth Maybelle, who received a rare mid-show standing ovation at the conclusion of her big song, "I Know Where I've Been."

That kind of excitement infuses this entire production from the moment Natalie McGowan as Tracy Turnblad launches into the opening number "Good Morning Baltimore." Here is a performer with a thorough understanding of the character, and McGowan communicates every bit of Tracy's boundless enthusiasm as she fights for integration on an all-white TV dance show in the early 1960's. 

As Link Larkin, the boy of her dreams, Isaac Harold delivers a performance of unabashed sincerity, while gyrating enthusiastically to the catchy period-flavoured tunes by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.  

The musical Hairspray is based on a campy film comedy by John Waters. The stage version tones down the camp aspect, and director Keith O'Connell keeps the entire cast in check, focused on the narrative. The company responds to his concept, making for a believably realistic story.

This is not to suggest that the cast isn't having fun with their characters.  Megan Flynn is a constant delight as Tracy's simple-minded best pal, Penny. Bil Antoniou has a field day in the drag role Edna, Tracy's oversized and overbearing mother, and Michael Harvey offers an amusing portrait of Tracy's novelty-selling dad. For balance, Mary Bowden is downright nasty as Tracy's nemesis, Amber Von Tussle, and playing Amber's monstrous mother – determined to see her daughter win at all costs – Ngaio Potts steals just about every scene in which she appears.

In a show that deals with the fight for integration in 1960's Baltimore, it is refreshing that the performers playing Tracy's friends Seaweed and Little Inez, do not play into stereotype. Instead both Kevin Vidal and Masini McDermott create three-dimensional characters. They also execute Janet Flynn's challenging dances with panache.  In fact, the entire cast brings energy and precision to the show's many dance numbers. Music director Keith Bohlender and a nine-piece band provide outstanding orchestral support, though occasionally at the opening night performance, the sound mix made it difficult to hear some of the lines.  This will likely be corrected after a few public performances. 


Hairspray continues at Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive, until Saturday November 12. For tickets visit or call 416-703-6181.

Toronto THEATER Stories | Shows

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Mark Andrew Lawrence Mark Andrew Lawrence began his broadcasting career as music director for St. Catharines radio station CHRE. After six years there and eight years at classical station CFMX, he created FRONT ROW CENTRE to supply theatre reviews and articles to magazines, newspapers, and broadcasters across the greater Toronto area. Mark Andrew Lawrence maintains an extensive collection of over 3,500 Broadway show recordings in all formats (78 RPM singles, 45 RPM album, 10 & 12-inch Lps, and Compact discs) dating back to the early years of the 20th century.


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