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Planer & Emmerdale’s Rushworth Join Hairspray

By • West End
Nigel Planer and Emmerdale’s Verity Rushworth will next month join the cast of Hairspray at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre. From 2 February 2009, Planer and Rushworth take over from Ian Talbot and Elinor Collett as, respectively, Wilbur Turnblad and Penny Pingleton, the father and the best friend of Leanne Jones’ Tracy Turnblad (pictured with Planer).

Meanwhile, original stars Jones, Michael Ball (who cross-dresses as Tracy’s mother Edna) and Ben James-Ellis (romantic interest Link Larkin) have all extended their contracts until 25 July 2009.

Planer’s musical credits include We Will Rock You, Chicago, Evita and, most recently, Wicked, in which he originated the role of the Wizard in the West End. A key part of the British comedy scene for three decades, Planer is best known to TV fans for his roles in the likes of The Young Ones, The Comic Strip Presents…, Blackadder and Shine on Harvey Moon. The author of I, An Actor, a spoof memoir of fictitious luvvie actor Nicholas Craig, who he later played in a one-man show of the same name, Planer made his playwriting debut with On the Ceiling, which had a West End run in 2005. His other stage acting credits include Feelgood and Darwin in Malibu.

In 1998 at the age of 12, Verity Rushworth joined the cast of Emmerdale, playing Donna Windsor-Dingle. She leaves the programme onscreen at the end of this month before making her West End musical debut in Hairspray. Her other TV credits include the 2007 competition of Soapstar Superstar.

Hairspray premiered in August 2002 at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater, where it’s still running, going on to win eight 2003 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Based on John Waters\' cult retro 1988 film and set in 1960s Baltimore, it tells the story of geeky overweight teen Tracy Turnblad, who finds celebrity on a TV dance programme. Can she get the guy and still have time to change the world?

The musical has a book by Mark O\'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whitman and Shaiman. As on Broadway, it’s directed by Jack O\'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Amongst its many accolades, the West End production - which opened at the Shaftesbury on 30 October 2007 (previews from 11 October) and is currently booking through until October 2009 – swept the Best Musical prizes at the Whatsonstage.com, Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards. At the Whatsonstage.com Awards, it won a total of seven top prizes, including Best Actor and Actress in a Musical for Michael Ball and Leanne Jones and, Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for Ben James-Ellis.

Amongst the show’s other current principals are Liz Robertson (Velma Von Tussle), Zoe Rainey (Amber Von Tussle), Adrian Hansel (Seaweed), Johnnie Fiori (Motormouth Maybelle) and Paul Manuel (Corny Collins).

- by Terri Paddock


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