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 West End production stars Michael Ball in the cross-dressing role of Tracy’s mum Edna Turnblad, with Mel Smith as husband Wilbur and newcomer Leanne Jones (pictured with Ball, in costume) as Tracy. The cast also features Tracie Bennett, Rachel Wooding, Paul Manuel, Adrian Hansel, Johnnie Fiori and Any Dream Will Do’s Ben James Ellis.
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. Hairspray had its West End premiere on 30 October 2007 (previews from 11 October) and had previously been booking to 15 March 2008. It’s presented in London by Stage Entertainment.
Two other musicals, both of which arrived in the West End last year, have also recently announced extensions to their booking periods.
At the Aldwych Theatre, Dirty Dancing, which had its UK premiere on 24 October 2006 (previews from 29 September), has extended by another six months through to 11 April 2009. Set at an upmarket American holiday camp called Kellerman’s in the 1960s, the 1987 film of Dirty Dancing starred Jennifer Grey as the teenaged Baby Houseman who falls in love with the camp's working class dance instructor Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze, whose climactic line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”, has since become a classic.
Dirty Dancing has been adapted for the stage by the film’s screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, who based the story’s setting on her own childhood experiences of family holidays in America’s Catskill Mountains. The musical had its world premiere in Sydney in 2004 and has since proved a hit on tour in Australia and Germany as well as the UK. The London production, directed by James Powell, currently stars Josef Brown (who originated the stage role of Johnny in Australia) and Sarah Manton as Johnny and Baby.
And finally, at the Noel Coward Theatre, Avenue Q had added another eight months to its booking period, taking it up to 27 September 2008. Billed as an adult version of Seasame Street, Avenue Q began its life at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre before transferring in July 2003 to Broadway’s Golden Theatre, where it went on to win three 2004 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The West End production opened at the Noel Coward on 28 June 2006 (previews from 1 June).
A cast of seven – three of them playing humans, the rest manipulating multiple puppets that include a closet gay puppet called Rod, a porn-addicted puppet called Trekkie Monster, and a puppet looking for love called Kate Monster – tell the characters’ tales of love and hardship on the downtown street.
Avenue Q has a score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and a book by Jeff Whitty, with puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, musical supervision by Stephen Oremus, and choreography by Ken Roberson. Amongst the show’s accolades to date, it won the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Ensemble Performance. The current West End cast features Julie Atherton, Jon Robyns, Simon Lipkin, Mary Doherty, Jennifer Tanarez, Delroy Atkinson and Sion Lloyd.
- by Terri Paddock