Like a musical theatre orgasm: Jay Brazeau stars in Hairspray

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Vancouver actor Jay Brazeau steps back into some familiar heels as he takes to the Stanley Theatre stage as Edna Turnblad in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Hairspray. In addition to talking with Jay about his role, we also check in with local drag artist Isolde N. Barron with some tips on helping Jay become the ultimate drag queen.

Having performed Edna in Toronto a number of years ago, Brazeau jumped at the opportunity when he was asked to reprise the role for Vancouver audiences.

“This was a great opportunity to bring the character home for friends that didn’t have an opportunity to see it in Toronto.  That, and I still have the panty hose,” laughed Brazeau.

First made famous by drag superstar Divine in the 1988 John Waters movie and then by Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway stage version, Brazeau knows he has some pretty big pumps to fill.  And while not one to shy away from the challenge of making the role his own, he makes no secret of pulling bits of his own Edna from these iconic performances.

“I find a bit of my Edna from Divine, a bit from Harvey, but I do try to remove as much of John Travolta as possible,” he laughed again.  “I play homage to them as it is impossible to negate their performances.  I do bring my own spin to the character, but I think one owes it to the actors that have gone before.”

While creating his own characterization of Edna might be tough enough, it is also only half the battle.  Fortunately, having performed the role before, he is prepared for that second half of the battle: the physical transformation each night.

“In Toronto it took about an hour for my transformation into Edna each night,” he explained.  “Right now we’re still working on the show [the show was still in rehearsal when we talked with Jay] so it is a little bit longer, but we’ll get there.”

Jay Brazeau stars as Edna Turnblad in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Hairspray
Vancouver actor Jay Brazeau stars as Edna Turnblad in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Hairspray.

Included in his transformation is not only the make-up and wig but also the fat suit that adds size to his already ample figure and makes him look like, what he calls, a “walking refrigerator”.  And then, of course, there is the shaving.

“I have to shave my arms, back and eyebrows,” he said.  “Fortunately I don’t have to do that every day, but it sure makes me appreciate being a guy!”

Of course the ultimate compliment for Brazeau’s transformation each night is when audiences forget he is in drag and simply fall in love with the story and the character.

“It’s much like Dame Edna Everage,” explained Brazeau.  “You know Barry Humphries is behind the make-up, wig and dress but you quickly forget that and all you see is her.”

For Brazeau that crowning moment, when he realized he was successful in becoming Edna, happened during his Toronto run where one night he received a note backstage from a middle aged Russian gentleman who wanted to take him out for a vodka because he reminded him of the girls back home.

“The show is really dynamic and fun but with a serious message,” he concluded.  “There are some really, really great performances from the cast and the final number, ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’, is so full of energy that we’ve nicknamed it ‘You Can’t Stop For Breath’.  It really is a musical theatre orgasm.”

Let’s just hope there aren’t too many Sally Albright’s in the audience on opening night.

Isolde N Barron’s top five drag beauty tips

1 Isolde N BarronHONOUR the originator of the role! Dramatic sharp eyebrows and blue shadow a must!


2 The longer the lashes the longer the applause! My favourite lashes are from Makeup Forever – ask for Gina or Cheryl – tell ’em Isolde sent ya!

3 A Queen has to hide her little soldier! Stand in second position, bend at the knees, push the boys back, while the knees are bent pull up the first layer (usually a good pair of spanx) as high as they can possible go. If you are a grower this should be fine. If you are a shower throw on a couple extra pairs of nylons, then call me!

4 There’s an old Texas saying: the bigger the hair the closer to God! VOLUME VOLUME VOLUME. You can NEVER have too much hair or HAIRSPRAY! TRESemme: Tres two – Extra Hold. Take 3, 4 even 9 wigs, get ol’ Billy Milly to stitch them together then spray the hell out of them!

5 To avoid that embarrassing lipstick on the teeth, after you apply, make sure to put something long, hard and girthy in your mouth, as far down as it will go, close you lips around it and pull out. If you watch the teeth he may even buy you dinner after!

For more beauty tips and debauchery join Isolde every Sunday night as she hosts APOCALYPSTICK – East Van’s Drag Show at The Cobalt located at 917 Main Street.  And be sure to join her on May 22nd as she holds auditions for the chorus roles for The Vancouver Playhouse’s production of La Cage aux Folles.  Photo: Brandon Gaukel for SAD Mag.

Arts Club Stanley Theatre
7 May – 10 July 2011

Amidst the doo-wop and beehives of ‘60s Baltimore, pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad won’t let popular Amber Von Tussle squash her dream of dancing on a local TV teen variety show. Can a girl with big ideas (and really big hair!) change the world … and win the heart of dreamy Link Larkin? Welcome to the ‘60s! Visit for tickets and information.

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