Brian Conley is to return to the London stage this summer when he replaces Michael Ball as the big mum with a big personality, Edna Turnblad, in Hairspray.
Ball leaves the role, which he has played since the show opened in the West End in 2007, on 25 July, with Conley replacing him from 27 July. The date also marks the departure of two other original cast members, Leanne Jones, who plays Tracy, and Ben James Ellis, who plays Link. They are replaced by Chloe Hart and Liam Tamne. Both Ball and Jones won Laurence Olivier Awards for originating the roles for the London stage.
A versatile performer, Conley takes to the Shaftesbury theatre stage following the culmination of his current variety tour The Best Of Brian Conley. Synonymous with Saturday night television in the 90s, when The Brian Conley Show was at its peak, characters such as foil-clad stuntman Dangerous Brian and kids presenter with a hatred for his puppet Nick Frisbee saw him among the nation’s favourite entertainers. At the height of his television fame Conley created the title role in hit West End musical Jolson, receiving a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his performance. Hits other musical credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Me And My Girl and last summer’s revival of The Music Man at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Speaking about his casting Conley said: “I’ve done a lot in my career, but wearing a dress and heels every night and being married to Nigel Planer weren’t things I was expecting to be doing all at the same time, and in front of thousands of people! I’m absolutely delighted to be back in the West End and joining one of the most uplifting, happy and, not to mention, successful shows in town. Being part of something that brings a smile to people’s faces, especially in these troubled times, is a real treat and I can’t wait to get on stage at the Shaftesbury.”
While Conley is an old hand when it comes to leading productions, it will be a new experience for the other principal cast members. Tamne is currently among the ensemble of Wicked, where he also understudies the role of Fiyero, while it will be Hart’s first job after finishing at Guildhall School of Acting.
Set in 1962 Baltimore, Hairspray is the story of Tracy Turnblad, a big-hearted big girl with even bigger hair who wins a spot on the local dance programme and sets out to prove that dancing is for everyone regardless of size, shape and colour. After opening at the Shaftesbury theatre in October 2007, the London production won four Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Actor, Actress and Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical along with the coveted title of Best New Musical.
Conley, Hart and Tamne join a cast that currently includes writer/performer Nigel Planer and former Emmerdale star Verity Rushworth, who will stay with the show until October.