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Photo provided by Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Fringe Review: A Toast to Prohibition

By Colin Noden on June 18, 2021

A Toast to Prohibition
Created by Melanie and Wendy Gall
Produced by Sisterscene (Ottawa)

60m | PG | Musical

Thirteen years of Prohibition?!! This was the first of many facts to surprise me as A Toast to Prohibition opened. Facts, tunes, anecdotes, a three-mile cocktail recipe, and a delivery style that brings us into the mindset of the day, are woven together by Melanie Gall as she saunters from bar to microphone and back again.

In her character of Gladys, the owner/entertainer of The Tipsy Sparrow, a speakeasy on the eve of the end of prohibition, she tells a sympathetic story of the Prohibition era. Her first song is an ironic tribute to Mr. Volstead, who ushered in the Prohibition through the 18th Amendment. Then we hear the little-known story of the “Hatchet Lady” founder of the Temperance movement (yes, a real hatchet). I think prohibitionists would be surprised, and perhaps not too pleased, with the unintended consequences of their work.

The hatchet lady! Photo provided by Ottawa Fringe Festival.

What happens when you take a nation and stuff it into a pressure cooker of social restrictions, add copious amounts of illicit hard liquor, and clamp it down for thirteen years? Well according to Gladys, you get the foundation of characteristics which America holds as cultural treasures. Of course, there were the gangsters and cudgel-happy police. But most of the play is an empathetic tale of people transforming in positive ways.

Thirsty men in row boats making nightly crossings to the three-mile limit while dodging the coast guard, could well have been the foundation for the American Gold Medal Rowing victory, where a ragtag bunch embarrassed Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. I don’t think Gladys would see that claim as a stretch. How about social integration? Or women’s liberation? I’ll let Gladys tell you about that through her stories, songs and a few naughty winks.

So, cheers to the Prohibition-era speakeasy and those other quirky venues, like Fringe Festivals, which encourage the evolution of our culture!


A Toast to Prohibition is screening at the Ottawa Fringe Festival until June 27, 2021. Tickets are pick-your-price from $12.50 to $47.50 (100% of which goes to the artists) plus a $2.50 surcharge. Visit ottawafringe.com for streaming information and the complete festival lineup. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe. Shows are on-demand, however the festival’s ticketing platform can take up to 12 hours to email the streaming link. So although there’s no risk of online shows selling out, your best bet is to buy tickets early!