Michael Ball (pictured), this year’s Whatsonstage.com Award-winning Best Actor in a Musical for his cross-dressing turn as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, has extended his contract in the West End production of the hit Broadway musical by another six months.

Ball will continue until 25 April 2009 at the Shaftesbury Theatre where, from 27 October 2008, he’ll be newly joined by Liz Robertson (whose myriad West End credits include My Fair Lady, The Phantom of the Opera and A Little Night Music) as Velma Von Tussle, Zoe Rainey (Gigi, The Sound of Music, Parade) as Amber Von Tussle and 16-year-old Raquel Jones, making her stage debut as Little Inez. They take over from, respectively, Tracie Bennett, Rachel Wooding and Natalie Best.

Amongst the other principals, Whatsonstage.com Award winners Leanne Jones (as Tracy Turnblad) and Ben James-Ellis (Link Larkin) continue in their roles, as do Ian Talbot (Wilbur Turnblad), Elinor Collett (Penny Pingleton), Adrian Hansel (Seaweed), Johnnie Fiori (Motormouth Maybelle) and Paul Manuel (Corny Collins).

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) – swept the Best Musical prizes at this year’s Whatsonstage.com, Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards. At the Whatsonstage.com Awards, it won a total of seven top prizes, Best Actor and Actress in a Musical for Michael Ball and Leanne Jones and, Best Supporting Actor and Actress in a Musical, for Ben James-Ellis and Tracie Bennett respectively).


Meanwhile, at the Victoria Palace Theatre, Billy Elliot the Musical - which swept the Best Musical prizes last year - welcomes its 17th Billy tonight (8 September 2008). Twelve-year-old Tom Holland, from Kingston-upon-Thames, makes his West End debut in the title role tonight, followed by fellow newcomer, 13-year-old Tanner Pflueger, from Norfolk, Nebraska, US from 29 September 2008.

Set against the North-eastern mining strikes of the 1980s, the musical recounts the tale of a motherless boy whose father wants him to learn to box but who instead discovers a love for ballet that leads him from secret lessons to a place at the Royal Ballet School.

The other current Billys are: Fox Jackson-Keen (13, from London), Layton Williams (14, from Manchester) and Joshua Fedrick (14, from Cornwall). The cast also features: Jackie Clune (as Mrs Wilkinson), Phil Whitchurch (Dad), Ann Emery (Grandma), Chris Lennon (Tony) and Alex Delamere (Mr Braithwaite).

Billy Elliot has played to over 2.5 million people worldwide since it had its world premiere in May 2005 at the Victoria Palace, where its now booking through to 11 April 2009. The musical – which scooped Best Musical prizes in the Laurence Olivier, Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Whatsonstage.com Awards in the UK - opened in Australia last year and, in November, will make its Broadway premiere. The stage production reunites the creative team behind the 2000 film: director Stephen Daldry, writer Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling. It features an original score by pop singer-songwriter Elton John, with lyrics by Lee Hall.

- by Terri Paddock