Andy Toth has played Edna Turnblad in Hairspray before, but this time he actually had a chance to rehearse. Last time, he was filling in at the Arts Club and prepared for the role in only 17 hours. “It’s luxurious,” he said with a laugh, explaining that reprising the role at Theatre Under the Stars has been a lot of fun and the production feels just as professional.
The character of Edna Turnblad was created by John Waters for his 1988 film, and was written for his good friend, the drag queen Divine. Since then, Edna has always been played by a man, and the cross-dressing element is important to the role. If the role was played by a woman, Toth explained, “it wouldn’t be the same as the original. He wrote the role with [Divine] in mind and it metaphorically accentuates that she doesn’t fit into society.”
While Edna’s character is a prominent figure, her daughter, Tracy, is the protagonist of the show. Tracy wins a spot to dance on a popular television show and becomes an instant celebrity, using her new status to try to convince the show to be racially inclusive.
Hairspray has been described as the ultimate feel-good musical, and Toth chalks that up to its themes, which everyone can relate to. “There’s a universality in needing to belong and hoping for the best, and Tracy has that in spades.” Everyone has their moment of triumph — even the antagonists finally accept racial integration, and it sends the message that everyone is welcome and this ideal world is possible.
Edna is an endearing character, and Toth said that he enjoys the relationship she has with her husband, Wilbur. “She and her husband are in each other’s corner. He kinda supports her crazy, and she loves him for it.” His favourite song to perform, he says, is “Timeless to Me” because it’s about the strength of their relationship and that they can never be apart.
Playing Edna is not all fun and games, though. “I’m not looking forward to getting into the polyester wig and clothing,” laughed Toth, describing the sweat-inducing costume as providing a large physical transformation.
The uplifting feeling is continued by the live band rocking out with key changes and an explosive pop of joy at the end. The final song, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is very uplifting, but Toth explained that Broadway performers refer to it as “You Can’t Stop to Breathe” because it is six minutes of nonstop dancing and singing.
“The show’s a blast,” said Toth. “Even if you’ve seen Hairspray, people will find something in this one that they haven’t seen before.”
Hairspray is presented by Theatre Under the Stars in Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl July 10 to August 21. For more information, visit tuts.ca.