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Everything you need to know about Hairspray at the London Coliseum

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Everything you need to know about Hairspray at the London Coliseum

The story of 1960s fictional teenager Tracy Turnblad dancing her way to the top of the Corny Collins Show has entertained audiences around the world for generations. As society and politics come together in this all-singing, all-dancing spectacular, we take a look at what has made Hairspray stay firmly in the hearts of cinemagoers and theatre audiences for over 30 years.

All about Hairspray

What is the storyline?

Set in 1960s Baltimore, audiences meet Tracy Turnblad, a lovable teenager who watches every episode of The Corny Collins Show with her close friend, Penny Pingleton. Auditioning for a dancing role on the show, Turnblad is met with opposition by Amber von Tussle and her mother, a network executive, especially when asked whether she is ‘for segregation’. As Turnblad begins a small-time television career, she undergoes a personal transformation, with the help of her mother Edna Turnblad as they welcome the changing decade together. In a story where love blossoms and racial integration eventually becomes common place, will The Corny Collins Show remain segregated or will Turnblad be able to usher in an everlasting change?

Who are the main characters?

Some of the main characters of Hairspray are:

Tracy Turnblad: An all-American teenager who finds herself with a coveted dancing position on The Corny Collins Show. Growing closer to Link Larkin, Turnblad uses her newly-found role to advocate change in the local and wider communities.

Penny Pingleton: A shy, reserved teenager who is close friends with Tracy, Penny Pingleton rarely breaks the rule. But, finding herself through growing closer to Seaweed Stubbs, Pingleton breaks free from her strict upbringing to champion 1960s freedom.

Link Larkin: The heartthrob of The Corny Collins Show, Link Larkin is often seen at the centre of the programme, with Tracy Turnblad falling in love with him. As the pair begin to find out more about each other, his cookie cutter appearance is altered and ultimately leads to the change of the hit television show.

Amber von Tussle: Primed to perfection, Amber von Tussle is a leading member of The Corny Collins Show. Reluctant to any form of political change, she’s helped by her mother Velma to retain her star position.

Seaweed Stubbs: Dancing his way to the heart of the monthly episode given to black teenagers, Seaweed and his little sister Inez just want to have fun with friends and family. Racially discriminated against, he’s spurred on by his mother Motormouth Maybelle to rally for change, eventually leading to the integration of The Corny Collins Show.

Edna Turnblad: There for Tracy’s every need, Edna Turnblad is a woman trapped in the ways of previous generations. Inspired by Tracy’s dancing prowess, she begins to find herself enjoying the 1960s freedom. Edna Turnblad is usually played by a man, as made famous in the 2007 film adaptation by John Travolta.

Who will star in Hairspray at the London Coliseum?

Michael Ball will reprise his performance as Edna Turnblad, starring in the 2007 West End revival, where he played the role until 2009. He then played the role from 2010 to 2011 on a national tour. Ball has starred in numerous West End productions for over 30 years, originating the role of Marius Pontmercy in Les Miserables in 1985. In recent years, Ball’s theatre credits include Chess at the London Coliseum and the title role in Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi Theatre. Later this year, Michael Ball will play Javert in Les Miserables: All-Star Staged Concert at the Gielgud Theatre.

Further casting is to be announced.

When was the original film released?

Released in Baltimore on 16th February 1988 during a preview period, Hairspray was eventually screened to audiences around the world from 26th February 1988. Starring the then-unknown Ricki Lake in the lead female role, Hairspray followed the teenage protagonist as she successfully auditioned for a local dance show, securing a high status in her school. Using her influence to tackle issues of racial segregation and other political issues, Hairspray quickly gained a cult following, with fans recreating the iconic 1960s bouffant styles. Further casting included Harris Glenn Milstead as his drag alter ego Divine in the role of Edna Turnblad and Sonny Bono as Franklin von Tussle.

Was the original film based on a true story?

Although Hairspray’s storyline is not directly based on truth, local dance shows featuring high school kids were common in the United States. In 1957, The Buddy Deane Show premiered in Baltimore, with white teenagers freely dancing to music and recreating dance moves. While white dancers were moving in a style perceived to be attributed to black singers and performers, segregation in the filming of the Buddy Deane Show was rife, with monthly nights allowing black church groups the opportunity to dance on air.

On 12th August 1963, Baltimore teenagers staged an attack on the show in the hopes of integrating races to perform beside each other. It took five months for black and white kids to be filmed dancing in the same room, with the special episode airing on 4th January 1964. This episode was to be the last of the Buddy Deane Show, but it went on to inspire Hairspray.

Want to read more about the inspiration behind Hairspray? Read about the Buddy Deane Show here.

When was Hairspray first performed as a musical?

After a world premiere in Seattle, Hairspray made its Broadway premiere in 2002, with the production going on to win eight Tony Awards including best musical. The original cast starred Broadway newcomer Marissa Jaret Winokur in the lead role, with Matthew Morrison as Link Larkin and Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad.

After the musical’s success in America, Hairspray made its West End premiere at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2007, where it ran for two and a half years. During its run, cast members included Michael Ball as Edna Turnblad, Sharon D Clarke as Motormouth Maybelle and Leanne Jones as Tracy, making her West End debut in the role. The transferring production received similar praise to the American show, scooping 11 Olivier Awards.

The musical led to the second Hairspray film released in 2007, with a star-studded line up including Nikki Blonsky (as Tracy Turnblad), John Travolta (as Edna Turnblad), Michelle Pfeiffer (as Velma von Tussle), Amanda Bynes (as Penny Pingleton), Queen Latifah (as Motormouth Maybelle), James Marsden (as Corny Collins), Brittany Snow (as Amber von Tussle), Zac Efron (as Link Larkin), Elijah Kelley (as Seaweed Stubbs) and Christopher Walken (as Wilbur Turnblad)

What is the soundtrack?

Where can I see it in London’s West End and how do I get there?

Hairspray is playing at the London Coliseum, located on St Martin’s Lane (WC2N 4ES). The closest train station is Charing Cross, which is a 2-minute walk away. Piccadilly and Northern Line underground services are available from Leicester Square tube station, just a short walk away.