Hairspray by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, directed by Jack O'Brien, with Vanessa Olivarez, Jay Brazeau, Susan Henley, Michael Torontow, Tom Rooney and Charlotte Moore. Presented by David & Ed Mirvish at the Princess of Wales (300 King West). Indefinite run, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $26-$94. 416-872-1212. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Don't flip your wig, but Hairspray , the candy-coloured adaptation of John Waters 's campy cult classic, is about as fun and sneakily subversive as musical comedy gets. Large-sized teen Tracy Turnblad ( Vanessa Olivarez ) wakes up one morning in 1960s Baltimore and before she can spray her mile-high hairdo or hug her larger-sized mother, Edna ( Jay Brazeau ), she's auditioning for the city's hottest TV dance show, winning over the show's hunky heartthrob ( Michael Torontow ) and fighting for civil rights.
Ironically, Waters's themes work better in the artificial setting of the musical theatre stage than they do in the conservative confines of film, and director Jack O'Brien moves the story along so quickly, you don't have time to take any of it too seriously.
But the show tackles the theme of discrimination head on, and the rousing closing number, You Can't Stop The Beat, is clearly a metaphor for the inevitability of integration, gay marriage and plus-sized fashion models.
The score, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and his partner, Scott Wittman , is a pastiche of 60s music clichés: a bit of girl group sass, some gospel and blues, a vampy number and at least one nod to Elvis. Also at work are the tropes of B movie campdom, from the caged women scenario (complete with Charlotte Moore as a butch prison guard) to the high school gym scene (again with Moore as a butch instructor).
The book (by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan ) and lyrics are full of double and triple entendres that consistently amuse. The show's funniest line, about how you can tell if someone's Jewish, is surprising and completely inoffensive.
Against a set that grows from tacky (wobbly cardboard?) to eye-poppingly dazzling, the cast motors through the work with infectious fun. Brazeau and Tom Rooney add heart and a vaudevillian charm as Tracy's parents, while Jennifer Stewart has all her nervous mannerisms down pat as Tracy's goosey sidekick. Susan Henley and Tara Macri , meanwhile, as the archetypal mean girl mother-daughter combo who want to take Tracy down, play their parts with sharp-nailed glee.
Ironically, the black characters have little to do, although Matthew Morgan and Fran Jaye manage to stop the juggernaut of a show with their individual numbers.
And Tracy herself? It's a role worthy of a young Ethel Merman: vocally taxing, physically demanding and requiring a wide-eyed, optimism and naïveté. Olivarez, who was voted off American Idol a couple of seasons ago (Simon said she was too big), has charisma to burn and a gritty, belter's voice that never quits.
AI's loss is theatre's gain.