Having a Ball in Camp Classic

~ Evening Post - 19/08/2010 ~

If you were to ask what it takes to re-ignite your career and inflate your bank balance, only ladies with a certain reputation would say it involves stilettos, a pair of 46EEE bosoms and a wardrobe of frocks that would put a drag queen to shame. Oh, and so would Michael Ball.

"For the first time in my career I'm wearing enormous false boobs, a very substantial fat suit and high-heeled shoes!" exclaims the dimpled one.

Britain's leading musical star is back as the larger-than-life Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, which plays Bristol Hippodrome next April.

It's 1962, the Fifties are out and change is in the air. Baltimore's Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, has only one passion – dancing.

She wins a spot on the local TV dance programme, The Corny Collins Show and is transformed overnight from outsider to irrepressible teen celebrity.

But can a trendsetting hair-hopper like Tracy get her massively shy Mom out of the apartment, beat evil Amber to be crowned Miss Hairspray, integrate Corny's show for good and win the heart of local heartthrob Link Larkin, all without denting her 'do'?

The musical, based on the cult 1988 John Walters film (which was re-made in 2007 starring John Travolta as Edna), has played to sell-out audiences, garnered universal critical acclaim and did extremely brisk business in London.

This is the first time the hit show has toured the UK, and Bristol is one of the lucky venues to have Michael, who was the first actor to play the role in the London production (Brian Conley and Michael Starke will alternate the role of Edna with Michael throughout the tour).

"I think Edna Turnblad is probably my favourite character of all time and I absolutely love playing her," says Michael, who hosts top-rated BBC Radio 2 show Michael Ball's Sunday Brunch.

"Even though I've played Edna about 600 times, I'm still discovering nuances about her character. She's a warm-hearted, spirited, loving mother and wife and she will do anything to protect her family."

When Michael was initially cast, some questioned whether he could pull it off; winning the Olivier Award for Best Actor in 2008 answered those critics.

"Winning the Olivier was incredible actually; it's the greatest theatrical honour you can receive in this country and winning it in 2008 was literally like a dream come true.

"It coincided with celebrating 25 years in music and theatre and honestly, I was thrilled beyond words… and for me that's saying something!"

Appearing alongside Michael in Bristol will be Danny Bayne, who won ITV's Grease is the Word, winner of GMTV's Search for Troy in High School Musical 2 Liam Doyle, and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees as Edna's husband, loveable joke shop owner Wilbur Turnblad.

"I've had several husbands – as you know – and I love them all," laughs Michael.

"I'm looking forward to working with Micky Dolenz who'll be my husband in Bristol. I was a huge fan of The Monkees – wasn't everyone – and having met him I know he's a genuine talent and really funny guy… he looks like a great kisser, too!

"We have some wonderful cast members in the touring production and I can honestly say we've developed as much of a family atmosphere as we did in the West End.

"I know I'm biased but I think the show is as fresh and dynamic as it was in London and I'm enjoying every second of it."

The warm and likeable star has had a hugely successful and eclectic career.

He's one of Britain's leading musical theatre stars and a multi-platinum selling recording artist. He has filled theatres on both sides of the Atlantic with productions including The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Aspects of Love and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; represented Great Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest; and with his top rated BBC Radio 2 show and his regular concert tours, Michael has won critical acclaim and the hearts of a fiercely loyal public.

It's a career that a 12-year-old Michael could only have dreamed of.

"When I saw a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the age of 12, I was so enthralled with the experience I just knew that's what I wanted to do.

"I'd always loved singing so it's great that over the last 25 years, I've managed to have a career in musical theatre and to record albums and do concert tours as well.

"I did a bit of radio and telly presenting here and there but it was really in 2008 when I was offered Parky's BBC Radio 2 slot that I became a regular radio presenter – I absolutely love it and hope to recreate the fun in my new ITV 1 series, The Michael Ball Show, which has just launched on a telly near you!

"I'm very excited and very nervous about the TV show. I'm aiming to keep it relaxed and chatty, just like the radio show, but unlike the radio show I won't be able to turn up in torn jeans and last night's hangover!"

If the TV show is as big a success as its radio incarnation, he'll be laughing.

Michael took over the coveted Radio 2 slot in 2008, slipping effortlessly into Michael Parkinson's well-worn shoes.

"It was daunting because Parky is such an iconic broadcasting legend and, to my mind, the best. Because of that I was keen to do a completely different show so there would be no danger of comparisons – can you imagine?

"So we decided to go for a really relaxed mix of music and chat and I purposely wanted to keep the choice of music as wide as possible.

"I was also keen to have an eclectic mix of guests dropping in and chatting about anything they liked. Ronnie Corbett was so funny – we got into a banter about showbiz and it was so entertaining I forgot to play any music!"

With his career firmly in the ascendancy, it's clear Michael's having a ball (sorry) at the moment and is in a very happy place.

"You're spot on there – I'm in an extremely happy place. I keep pinching myself.

"I've really been on an incredible rollercoaster over the last five years – there was Woman In White in the West End and on Broadway; Gilbert & Sullivan in New York; Kismet at the ENO; my own evening at the BBC Proms which was absolutely amazing; the opening night of Hairspray, which was even more amazing; my 25th anniversary concert tour; the Olivier; my own radio series... and now the Hairspray tour and my own TV series.

"And that's apart from all the Sunday roasts I like to cook when I'm home!"

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