Rockford’s own E. Faye Butler stars in Hairspray in Aurora

By Bill Beard

Don’t miss this one, Rockford! It’s right down the road in Aurora! The Paramount Theatre’s Broadway Musical Series has a new production of Hairspray the Musical, starring one of Rockford’s own favorite divas, E. Faye Butler! Ms. Butler has been featured on virtually every professional stage in Chicago; has toured nationally and performed across the country from Florida, Yale, Philadelphia and the Kennedy Center. She has won six Jeff Awards, four BTAs, two Helen Hayes awards, a Black Excellence Award, and has been inducted into the Women in the Arts Museum in Washington D.C.

She was most recently seen in Rockford in this last season’s Hometown Christmas, as J. R. Sullivan’s special guest. She is now featured in the Paramount’s Hairspray through Sunday, February 21, playing the powerhouse role of Motormouth Mabelle. She has a magnificent voice and a real command of the stage. She is fantastic! Go!

Hairspray, the Musical is described as: “a high-octane song and dance party, about a ’plus-size’ teen (Tracy Turnblad), with ’plus-size’ hair, and one big ’plus-size’ dream – to dance her way onto Baltimore’s TV hit, The Corny Collins Show.” The show is set in the 1960s, and only features ‘white’ teen dancers (except for one day a week, “the Negro day”).  So Tracy must not only overcome her “plus-ness”, but also organize her friends to fight the social battle of racial prejudice. [Hey! Doesn’t that whole thing sound sort of familiar….today!?]

This is a brilliant cast! Truly as fine as any ensemble I have reviewed here in the region for a long while. Amelia Jo Parish has a powerful, but pleasant singing voice and dance ability as well; her endearing appeal offers a completely honest exuberance and relentless enthusiasm to Tracy’s passionate determination; it would be impossible not to love her. Landree Fleming’s Penny is perfect, and Gilbert Domally on target. Again, this is a truly professional ensemble.

Directed (and choreographed marvelously) by Amber Mac, the production also enjoys the impeccable work of Music Director/Conductor Tom Vendafreddo, whose baton has blessed most of the orchestra pits in the region. Add in the beautifully coordinated artistry of Linda Buchanan (scenery), Theresa Ham (costumes) and the entire design staff, and one finds a real sort of “synchronization.”  The entire production shows a unity of concept.

Rockford native E. Faye Butler stars in the Paramount's production of Hairspray. | Photos provided
Rockford native E. Faye Butler stars in the Paramount’s production of Hairspray. | Photos provided

I had an opportunity after the show to chat with a few cast members. It seems that the entire ensemble loved working with Ms. Butler. Amelia Jo gushed that she thought Faye was “….amazing, just amazing.” Young Ariana Burks, who is excellent as Little Inez, described how much she learned by working with Faye:  “She is a true role model.”

Ms. Butler explained: “This has been a magnificent experience….my first time at the Paramount. But hopefully, certainly not my last. The management here is completely professional. Jim Corti (Artistic Director of the Paramount) has built something very special here.” [Critic’s Note: Mr. Corti is a renowned theatre leader in Chicagoland; with multiple Jeff Awards in Acting, Choreography and Directing; I remember reviewing his dazzling production of Sweet Charity (2008) at Drury Lane Oak Brook, with the brilliant Summer Smart. The Paramount is in excellent hands!]

It appears to me that she is right. I personally will look forward to returning to the Paramount often. I enthusiastically encourage any state line theatregoer to take the short trip down I-39/I-88 for Broadway at the Paramount’s next show: West Side Story. But meantime, definitely try to go to Hairspray, the Musical before Sunday, February 21.

For more information or to contact The Paramount Theatre call 630-896-6666 or visit

Postscript: I’ve been reviewing the big shows in Chicago for some 20 years; the Broadway in Chicago series, The Goodman, The Court, Writers Theatre, Drury Lane, Marriott Lincolnshire, plus many others. I’ve been encouraging, urging and pleading with state line readers to take the time and effort to drive the 90 minutes into downtown Chicago to see top-notch professional shows.

But now I can say there is no need to go into the heart of Chicago Loop traffic. Aurora is an easy 60-minute drive (straight down I-39 and east on I-88) right into the center of the town, and the Paramount (restored in 1978 and 2006) is like a twin sister to our own Coronado (restored in 2001). The building itself is worth the drive. But see a show, too.

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