Brian Conley will return to the West End this summer when he takes over from Michael Ball in the cross-dressing role of Edna Turnblad in the multi award-winning Broadway import Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Conley (pictured) – who is currently touring until 3 May in his new live variety show The Best of Brian Conley - will have his first performance in Hairspray on 27 July 2009. After numerous extensions, Michael Ball, winner of Best Actor in a Musical at both the Whatsonstage.com and Laurence Olivier Awards last year for his performance, finishes his contract on 25 July.

Having found fame in TV variety, Conley’s stage career rocketed when he created the title role in the 1995 West End musical Jolson. Last summer, he starred in The Music Man at Chichester Festival Theatre, for which he won Best Performance in a Musical at the TMA Awards for regional theatre (See News, 26 Oct 2008). The revival had been tipped for a West End transfer this year. Conley’s other stage credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Me and My Girl and Elton John’s Glasses.

Hairspray premiered in August 2002 on Broadway, 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.

In addition to Ball’s awards, the West End production’s many accolades include a clean sweep of Best Musical prizes at last year’s Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle, Whatsonstage.com and Olivier Awards. The current cast also stars Leanne Jones (as Tracy), Ben James-Ellis, Nigel Planer, Verity Rushworth, Liz Robertson, Zoe Rainey, Adrian Hansel, Johnnie Fiori and Paul Manuel.

Hairspray had its UK premiere on 30 October 2007 (previews from 11 October) at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where it’s now booking until 27 March 2010.

- by Terri Paddock