31 OCTOBER 2007

It was arguably the British theatre event of the year as Broadway's all-singing, all-dancing hit Hairspray opened in London to rapturous applause and a standing ovation from a star-studded audience which included Cilla Black.

And taking centre stage was West End star Michael Ball, who plays middle-aged American mother Edna Turnblad. It's little surprise his performance is so convincing, considering he waxes his eyebrows, shaves his chest, applies layers of foundation, dons a wig and slips into a fat suit during the 40-minutes it takes to transform him into the larger-than-life character.

The result is so successful, some theatre-goers have apparently voiced their discontent over what they thought was a switch in actor. "We have received complaints to the box office staff at the intervals during the previews," said the show's producer. "We have to assure them that they are mistaken. Michael is extremely flattered that his disguise is so good. He does make an extremely impressive woman."

Starring opposite the Les Miserables actor on stage is TV funnyman Mel Smith, making his musical debut at the age of 54, and back in the West End for the first time since 1983. He portrays Michael's on-screen husband, failed joke-shop proprietor Wilbur, in the Sixties-set tale.

Meanwhile, fresh out of drama school and appearing as their on-screen daughter is newcomer Leanne Jones, aka Tracy Turnblad - the Baltimore schoolgirl who is determined to become a star dancer on a TV pop show.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
The West End star is so convincing as larger-than-life American mother Edna Turnblad some theatre-goers have complained at his absence after failing to recognise him in costume. Appearing as his on-stage husband is TV funnyman Mel SmithPhoto: © Getty ImagesClick on photos for gallery
Photo: © Alphapress.com
The colourful show, on stage in the UK for the first time, tells the tale of Tracy Turnblad – the larger-than-life Baltimore schoolgirl who is determined to become a star dancer on a TV pop showPhoto: © Getty Images