The hit musical Hairspray, which opened on Broadway in 2002, finally received its West End premiere at the Shaftesbury Theatre last night (30 October 2007, previews from 11 October), after years of speculation surrounding the show’s London transfer. The current cast was described as “wonderful, without exception” by Dame Judi Dench (See WOS TV, 30 Oct 2007) and stars Michael Ball (Edna), Mel Smith (Wilbur) and Leanne Jones (Tracy).

The musical is still running at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater, where it opened in August 2002 before 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 follows a girl called Tracy, who finds celebrity on a TV dance programme. Can she get the guy and still have time to change the world?

Hairspray has a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whitman and Shaiman. It’s directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. The 2007 film of the musical, starring John Travolta as Edna is due for release on DVD this year.

Joining Ball, Smith and Jones in the cast of the London stage production are Tracie Bennett, best known to TV fans from Coronation Street, who will play the role of vicious Velma Von Tussle, Rachel Wooding (Amber Von Tussle), Paul Manuel (host Corny Collins), Adrian Hansel (Seaweed), Johnnie Fiori (Motormouth Mabel) and Any Dream Will Do’s Ben Ellis (Link Larkin).

In the original film of Hairspray, Edna (Michael Ball's character) was played by late drag queen Divine. On stage, the role was created by Harvey Fierstein, while in the 2007 film of the musical, John Travolta took 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).

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.”


For 1st Night Photos, our photographer Dan Wooller was on hand for the Hairspray opening at the Shaftesbury Theatre along with John Waters (the writer and director of the original film starring Ricki Lake), and other first night guests including Lesley Garrett, Vanessa Feltz, Dame Judi Dench, Sandi Toksvig, Maureen Lipman, Josie Walker, Madeleine Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, Elaine Paige, Nicola Roberts, David Ian, Cilla Black, John Barrowman and Arlene Phillips. The production is currently booking until 15 March 2008.

- by Tom Atkins