Singer gets in touch with his feminine Side

~ IC Wales - 12/10/2007 ~

MICHAEL Ball is talking about the wonders of make-up. He's also waxing lyrical about high heels and handbags. But he's not too keen on false eyelashes – well applying them himself, at least.

“You have to get your eyebrows right,” he says. “You have to make sure the make-up blends in but you mustn't over do it.”

While he says he couldn't put false eyelashes on “to save my life”, he reveals he can walk in four-inch stilettos.

“Do you know what? It came surprisingly easily, but they can get painful,” he says.

Although it sounds like Ball is very much in touch with his feminine side, he hasn't taken on a new job as a drag queen.

Instead he's been cast as a female in the new West End production of Hairspray.

And he says playing Edna Turnblad – the outrageous Baltimore housewife made famous by the late popstar Divine in the 1988 cult film – is one of the best things he's ever done.

“I've never enjoyed the process of getting ready for a show so much in my life,” says the 45-year-old, who has Welsh roots.

Hairspray opened at London's Shaftesbury Theatre last night for previews before its official launch on October 30.

Ball saw the musical on Broadway five years ago and was more than impressed.

“I came out thinking it was one of the best shows I'd ever seen,” he says.

“I also thought I'd love to play the part of Edna but they wouldn't dream of casting me in it in England – it didn't fit my image. But be careful what you wish for,” he laughs.

Indeed. Fast forward five years and Ball was appearing on stage in the much-panned Kismet when he was asked to consider the role of Edna in the new West End version of Hairspray.

“I went for a proper audition but I had a beard at the time (for his Kismet role). The first thing I said when I walked in was, ‘I see her being a bearded lady.'”

Ball landed the part and, thankfully, Edna is whiskers free.

“I wanted her to be really real,” says the musicals legend who shot to fame in shows like Les Miserables and Aspects Of Love.

“There's a tendency to make her a drag queen but that's exactly what she's not. I wanted her to look as feminine as possible.

“Because I don't have a very angular face, when make-up is put on skilfully, it does look quite pretty – I look like my granny from Mountain Ash,” he laughs.

With a “fat suit” and wigs to wear, it doesn't take Ball too long to get into “Edna mode”, but he says he can now empathise with women when it comes to pulling on their gladrags for a big occasion.

“I understand now why women take forever getting ready,” he says, although I must admit his statement isn't always true.

“The make-up has got to be right, you have to decide whether to wear your hair up or down and the shoes have to coordinate with the handbag.

“Cath (his long-term partner Cathy McGowan) will be going to a wedding or opening night and saying, ‘What the hell am I going to wear to this?' But I won't be shouting, ‘Hurry up honey' any more.”

Hairspray tells the story of “pleasantly plump” teenager Tracy Turnblad who lives in Baltimore in the early '60s with her unconventional mother Edna. She achieves her dream of becoming a regular on the Corny Collins Dance Show. As a teen hero, she starts using her fame to speak out for the causes she believes in, most of all integration.

But in doing so, she elicits the wrath of the show's former star, Amber Von Tussle, as well as Amber's manipulative, pro-segregation parents.

The stage version opened on Broadway in 2002 to rave reviews and public acclaim and it swept the board at the 2003 Tony Awards, winning eight gongs, including Best Musical.

In the West End, Ball stars opposite comedy actor Mel Smith as Wilbur Turnblad and newcomer Leanne Jones as their daughter Tracy. He is full of praise for his colleagues.

“I really feel like I'm married to Mel Smith – married without the perks,” he laughs.

“And if I was a mother, I would want Leanne to be my daughter. I would be that proud of her. She's fabulously talented and one of the most lovely girls I've ever met. She deserves success.”

A new film version of Hairspray was released earlier this year with John Travolta playing Edna.

“I really like it, although it's different from the show,” says Ball. “John Travolta plays it very differently, very timid. It's difficult to act through a lot of prosthetics – I'm not going to do that.”

Ball's most recent stage shows include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Woman In White but his last venture, Kismet, was not a critical success.

“It was shocking,” he admits. “But I'm really glad I did it. It had the wrong director, choreographer and designer – the three essential elements didn't gel. It left us (the cast) stuck in the middle. Luckily it has such amazing music that you can try and rise above it.”

As well as gearing up for Hairspray, Ball, who appeared at Bryn Terfel's Faenol Festival in August, is also about to release a new album. His CD is a tribute to Burt Bacharach. Ball has picked a selection of the legendary composer's tracks and recorded them.

“I'm really pleased with the way it's turned out,” says the singer, who had a chart-topping hit with Love Changes Everything.

“I love his music and the key was finding a way of me recording his songs so I do them justice. While they sound really current and modern, they remain faithful to Bacharach.”

One of his favourites is The Look Of Love, which was a huge hit for Dusty Springfield.

“I was the last person to sing with her when she came on my Christmas show on ITV,” he explains.

Ball is signed up to Hairspray for six months and he has no work plans beyond that.

“I'm totally focused on it (Hairspray) – I have an option in my contract to stay. I'll have six months of wearing those heels and chicken fillets and, if my back holds out, I may stay longer.”

Hairspray is at London's Shaftesbury Theatre from October 30. Tickets are available from the box office on 0207 379 5399 or by visiting

Michael Ball – Back To Bacharach is released on October 22 by Universal Music

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