Michael Ball (pictured) has won the cross-dressing role of Edna Turnblad in the upcoming UK premiere of Hairspray, the Daily Mail reports today. The Broadway screen-to-stage musical opens on 30 October 2007 (previews from 11 October) at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre (See News, 18 May 2007).

Hairspray premiered in August 2002 at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater, where it’s still running, and went 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 Tracy, who finds celebrity on a TV dance programme. Can she get the guy and still have time to change the world?

In the original film, Edna was played by late drag queen Divine. On stage, the role was created by Harvey Fierstein, while in the upcoming film of the musical, released next month in the UK, John Travolta will take on the part. Names previously mentioned in connection with Edna in the London stage production have included Bob Hoskins, Ricky Gervais and Little Britain’s Matt Lucas (See The Goss, 30 Mar 2007).

Michael Ball made his West End debut in 1985, originating the role of Marius in Les Miserables. He went on to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, Passion and Aspects of Love. It was the last that had perhaps the most dramatic impact on his career, transferring to Broadway and also producing the #1 hit song "Love Changes Everything", which has become one of Ball's signature tunes on his ongoing concert tours.

Ball’s most recent West End roles have been Caractacus Potts in the stage premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Count Fosco in The Woman in White, for which he won Whatsonstage.com’s Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Takeover in a Role. He reprised his performance in the Broadway premiere of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

This month, Ball makes his English National Opera debut, starring in a revival of Robert Wright and George Forrest 1953 Broadway musical Kismet (See News, 2 Aug 2006), which will have a consecutive run of performances at the London Coliseum from 27 June to 14 July 2006 (previews from 25 June). Later this summer, the singer will make another impressive crossover, performing a full-length concert of musical theatre songs as part of the BBC Proms, one of the key events in the UK’s classical music calendar (See News, 26 Apr 2007). Ball’s concert is at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 August.

Speaking about his first foray into cross-gender casting, Ball told the Daily Mail: “The secret is to play Edna as a woman and not as a man in drag. You behave like a woman and you convince people and find the pathos, the way Dustin Hoffman did in Tootsie.”

As previously reported (See News, 6 Jun 2007), Ball will be joined in the Hairspray cast by newcomer Leanne Jones as his daughter, geeky teen Tracy Turnblad (played by Ricki Lake in the film original), a big girl with a big heart, big dreams and big hair. The musical has a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whitman and Shaiman. It’s choreographed by Jerry Mitchell and directed by Jack O'Brien, who this week won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play, one of seven trophies for Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia (See News, 11 Jun 2007).

- by Terri Paddock