It's 1962, the 50's are out and change is in the air in Baltimore! Hairspray, the show with big heart, big songs and big wigs is now into it's second national tour of the UK and Ireland. Part of an incredibly talented and energetic cast of over 30 - Waterloo Road's Mark Benton leads as the loveable Edna Turnblad, Eastenders' Lucy Benjamin is the scheming TV show producer Velma Von Tussle and X Factor finalist Marcus Collins is Seaweed J Stubbs.
Mark Benton as Edna Turnblad (Luke Striffler as Link Larkin)
Known to many for his roles in Early Doors, Northern Lights, Waterloo Road and in films such as The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, screen favourite Mark Benton returns to the stage and for the first time in a musical. "I trained at RADA, primarily for stage and I absolutely loved my time there, I had a really mixed and interesting year group and I learnt a lot. I did a lot of theatre, plays, this is my first musical but I've done a lot of TV work now and I couldn't say which I preferred. Once I'd finished Waterloo Road I really wanted to get back in the theatre, but I know that once Hairspray's over I shall want to go and do some TV work again."
So, what's it like rehearsing for something like Hairspray? "Rehearsing Hairspray was completely different to anything I'd ever done before. On TV you barely get a rehearsal, you just go with your first instinct and most of the time that's right - and that's what can be annoying about stage rehearsals... You can go with your first instinct in a play, or musical like this, try a million other ways and then more often than not go back to how you did it originally! Something like Hairspray though is set already, it's been done all over the world and they know what they're doing - things move really quickly. The show moves really quickly too, you learn to pace yourself... although we've just had a week off so it's been a shock getting back into the swing of things."
Also a shock to Mark at first was the perils of working in a female fat suit. "It's not particularly heavy, it's just very hot. I'm not looking forward to spending a summer in that. Especially in the big dance numbers like Welcome To The 60's and You Can't Stop The Beat - it gets very sweaty!" During the show Edna and Tracy undergo makeovers, each of them having a little over 30 seconds to completely transform: "It should be one of the hardest parts of the show, but for me I just stand still. I run off stage and have four dressers who manage to change my dress, shoes and wig and get me back on stage to finish the song - I love Welcome To The 60's, it's a great part of the show and really gets the audience going, especially after the reveal. Edna really blossoms after the makeover, she's a good woman and I see her like a bit like a butterfly, she develops into something beautiful from something quite drab. She's insecure at first and I play her quite masculine and become more feminine as the show goes on to chart her change of character."
"I hadn't seen the show when it was on in the West End and I haven't really seen the film properly - the kids have got it, so I've seen bits but I wanted to put my own spin on what is such an iconic role as opposed to just copying John Travolta. Apart from Welcome To The 60's my other favourite moment has to be singing Timeless To Me with Paul Rider who is Edna's husband Wilbur. I've worked with Paul a few times and we understand each other, so we have a great laugh singing together and we love working with Freya (Tracy) too! She's fresh out of drama school, bright eyed and enthusiastic and has so much talent!"
Lucy Benjamin as Velma Von Tussle (Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle)
Lucy Benjamin is having a lot of fun playing Velma on the tour but she couldn't be more unlike her horrid character. "I'm having so much fun playing Velma, she's the best character to play. She's stuck in her ways, she's not at all ashamed of her racism, which of course makes her a horrid person, but so much fun to play. I sometimes get booed, but that's great - because I know I've done my job properly! It's a good job I love it because I struggle to escape the world of Hairspray - my children love the show, they're always watching the film and if they're not doing that they've got the CD on... constantly!"
"I remember seeing the show in the West End and I loved it but I enjoy being in it much more. I watched the film before I auditioned to familiarise myself with the role but I didn't want to get too bogged down in someone else's interpretation. I've put my own spin on a character who is essentially an evil Disney princess. Her dresses are like Belle's, I love being a princess! When I'm not being a princess I love to watch Marcus Collins do his thing - he is a delight! Marcus just raises the roof, the audience love him and his song Run And Tell That is one of my favourite parts of the show... apart from when I get to sing of course! I love doing Miss Baltimore Crabs but my favourite bit to do is Velma's Revenge where I'm dragged backwards on a platform by the boys and all the smoke blows of out it - evil!
Marcus Collins as Seaweed J Stubbs (Freya Sutton as Tracy Turnblad)
Marcus Collins rose to fame and won the hearts of the nation, finishing second on the 2011 series of The X Factor and after touring the UK with the show's concert tour this tour of Hairspray marks his professional theatre debut. "The tour's going great, everyone's enjoying it and nice to be travelling to different parts of the country and seeing different cities. I'm excited about Liverpool because that's my home crowd, I'll have loads of friends and family in, but after that we've got Birmingham and I'm really looking forward to performing at the Hippodrome. I wanted to try something new after X Factor, and performing in theatres is great. I did a lot of musical theatre when I was younger but I've always wanted to do something that was a bit more commercially rewarding, and X Factor gave me the chance to be heard and get a single and album out. I'm still in the studio, recording new stuff whilst I'm on tour with Hairspray. It's two completely different worlds though, here people are coming because they're interested in a story and the characters, they're not just coming to listen to someone sing and they're not watching me - they're watching Seaweed. With Seaweed I've tried my best to tone my accent down, I've always had a broad Scouse accent and I think people are surprised when they hear me."
"For those who haven't seen the show, Hairspray is one of the most feel good shows you will ever see and it takes you back in time. The score is beautiful and at the end of the show you'll be on your feet, dancing in the isles! For me, Hairspray is a celebration of the fact that nowadays we have the freedom to live as we do, to be who we are and who we want to be, mixing with people of all different backgrounds. The 60's wasn't that long ago, and I'm amazed at how far society has come."
"I'd never seen the show before doing it and so I got to create my own version of the character based on the script and what his song is about. Although, after I did go back and have a look on the internet to see what other Seaweed's out there had done, just being nosey really...!"
Being a hairdresser before entering into X Factor, you could say Hairspray is the perfect show for Marcus... "It's great, Hairspray amongst all other things is about great hair, and there's some fabulous wigs in the show. For me, being a hairdresser has been a vital part of the experience, I get a real buzz out of seeing the different styles and colours going on. I style my own hair, everyone else goes to the wig department to have theirs fitted, but no, I sit here and do my own!"
"There are three bits of the show that I absolutely love, obviously my song, getting to sing Run And Tell That is great, but my stage mum Sandra Marvin singing I Know Where I've Been, I love that. I remember sitting in the cinema watching Queen Latifah sing it in the movie and it really moved me to tears - such a great song about strength and how far we've come. My other favourite bit is the end, You Can't Stop The Beat, you get the integration between black and white people and the stage is just full of colour, the costumes are great, everyone's up on their feet dancing and just having an amazing time!"
Hairspray also stars Freya Sutton as Tracy Turnblad, Paul Rider as Wilbur Turnblad, Lauren Hood as Penny Pingleton, Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle, Luke Striffler as Link Larkin, Josh Piterman as Corny Collins and Gemma Sutton as Amber Von Tussle.
Hairspray plays at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 21st May - 1st June 2013, and you can book tickets here.
You can listen to the Birmingham Hippodrome Podcast for Hairspray below!
You can also download and listen to the latest Birmingham Hippodrome podcasts for free on iTunes here.
View the new trailer for the 2013 tour: