Les Dennis on getting up close with Michael Ball
~ Wales Online by Karen Price - 26/03/10 ~
As the new touring production of one of the West End's most popular musicals opens in Wales, Karen Price catches up with leading man, Les Dennis, who chats about his work, fatherhood and on-stage kisses
LES Dennis is looking forward to his latest stage performance – because he enjoys plenty of embraces with Michael Ball.
“I get to snog Michael eight times a week,” laughs the comic, TV presenter, actor and West End star, who is making his debut as Wilbur Turnblad in Hairspray.
The hit musical is opening its new tour in Wales next week and Ball reprises his critically-acclaimed West End role as the feisty and fabulous Baltimore housewife Edna Turnblad.
For Dennis, it's the first time he has played Wilbur and when I call him, he's knee-deep in technical rehearsals at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff – but he doesn't sound too ruffled.
“It's a fantastic show to be a part of – I'm really thrilled,” he says.
“And I'm lucky to be working with Michael who created the role of Edna in the West End.
“This is like a new production as there are new sets and a brand new cast. It's a wonderfully joyous show.
“Michael told me that when you go into the theatre you cannot help but be uplifted – the cast as well as the audience leave with big grins on their faces.”
The stage show, which enjoyed its Broadway premiere in 2002, is based on the 1988 film which famously starred Divine as Edna. John Travolta took on the role in the 2007 movie.
The West End production opened in October, 2007, with Ball playing Edna opposite Mel Smith as Wilbur.
At the time, Ball, who has Welsh roots, told Box Office that he enjoyed pulling on the fancy frocks and high heels for the part.
The Olivier award-winner said: “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!”
Dennis, who recently appeared in the stage show High School Musical 2, had never worked with Ball before meeting him for rehearsals, but they clearly get along well.
“We have really hit it off. I think he's just the most brilliant performer. He's got a fantastic voice, a great sense of comic timing and he's a really good actor. He's just great to work with.
“It's really essential that Wilbur and Edna connect, because of their love that has to come across to the audience.”
Dennis saw the West End production, with Brian Conley playing Edna.
“I went to see it not knowing I would later be playing Wilbur. I'll be working with Brian later on in the tour and he and Michael are totally different Ednas.”
Hairspray is set in Baltimore in 1962 and Tracy Turnblad, the daughter of Wilbur and Edna, has only one passion – dancing.
She wins a spot on the local TV dance programme, The Corny Collins Show and, overnight, is transformed from outsider to irrepressible teen celebrity.
But can a trend-setting 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?
In the new touring production, Larkin is played by newcomer Liam Doyle, who starred with Dennis in High School Musical 2.
In fact, he won the role in a GMTV talent search.
“He's brilliant. He got his A level results just before he started, so High School Musical 2 was his first job after school,” says Dennis.
“He's taken to it like a duck to water and I'm really proud to be a part of his journey.”
Dennis and Doyle are not the only High School Musical 2 cast members to move to Hairspray.
“There are 11 of us altogether,” he says. “It's a real credit to the people in that show that they are now in Hairspray.”
Dennis admits that he didn't know much about the High School Musical phenomenon before landing the role of Mr Fulton.
“I knew of the cult. I decided to watch the movie and then I said ‘yes' to the job.
“It was a great part to play. I was the token oldie in the show – the others were 18 to 23,” he laughs.
Among his forthcoming projects is a new children's game show for CBBC. But these days, you're more likely to find him tuning into CBeebies.
For two years ago, at 54, he became a father for the second time when his third wife Claire gave birth to daughter Eleanor.
Dennis, whose second wife was TV presenter and actress Amanda Holden, also has a 30-year-old son, Philip, from his first marriage.
He says he is loving fatherhood second time around and both Claire and Eleanor will be staying with him in Cardiff during Hairspray's month-long run at the WMC.
“It's just a gift for me to have this little lady in my life,” he says of Eleanor, who celebrates her second birthday in April.
“I didn't think it would ever happen to me. I spoil her more with time and effort. She just loves to have the attention of mum and dad and it's great to be able to give her that.”
Hairspray is at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, from Tuesday until April 24. The box office is 029 2063 6464.
Sourece with video