Ottawa-raised performer Emmanuelle Zeesman plays a key supporting role in her third season with the show
Published Nov 10, 2023 • Last updated 2 hours ago • 5 minute read Hairspray is one of the shows in Broadway Across Canada’s upcoming season. Photo by Supplied
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Broadway Across Canada
Nov. 14-19, Southam Hall, National Arts Centre (1 Elgin Street)
Emmanuelle Zeesman is thrilled to be coming home to perform on the same Ottawa stage where she saw her first Broadway musical.
The Montreal-born, Ottawa-raised performer has a key supporting role in a touring production of Hairspray — billed as Broadway’s “big fat musical comedy” — that starts its 2023-24 season with a run at the National Arts Centre.
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It’s Zeesman’s third season with the show, which tells the story of a teenager named Tracy Turnblad, who dreams of dancing on the local TV dance program. Set in Baltimore in 1962, Turnblad also finds herself fighting against the racial segregation of the era and battling the prejudice of folks like Zeesman’s character, the mother of Tracey’s best friend.
But the role that’s really created a flashpoint is that of Tracy’s mother, Edna. Written for a man in drag, it’s defying the rising anti-trans sentiment across North America, and forcing the show to review its security protocol.
In this interview, edited for length and clarity, Zeesman talks about her theatre roots in Ottawa, her role in Hairspray and the renewed significance of the show’s message of inclusivity. You’ll also learn what she thought of that first Broadway show she saw as a child.
Q: Tell me about your role as the “female authority figure.”
A: I get to play three different people. My main role is Prudy Pingleton, but then I also do the cameos of the gym teacher and the matron. My main character is kind of a horrible human at first, but I’m also the character that changes her mind. I consider myself unbelievably lucky because this is a role that has a lot of improvisational opportunities. I get to scat sing and I get to come up with a local reference in every city.
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