THERE aren’t many parts where men are willing to dress up in drag, but the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray is hotly contested.
Former “Ednas” have included Michael Ball, John Travolta and Brian Connolly.
However the prospect of donning a fat suit, wig and size-12 heels wasn’t enough to persuade Monkees star Mickey Dolenz, who appears as Edna’s long-suffering husband, Wilbur, in the musical, which is currently on stage at HM Theatre, Aberdeen.
“A couple of years ago, my agent in England called because the Hairspray team wanted to see me for the part of Edna. I couldn’t do it because I was on tour, but to be honest I didn’t quite see myself in the fat suit and heels,” said Mickey, 66.
“There were a few things at that point that I’d been asked to do in the UK, including the Rocky Horror Show, but I wasn’t able to come over to Britain at that point.
“Then last year, they called and said they wanted to see me for Wilbur and I thought: ‘Ok, that’s more me.’
“I nailed the audition, got the part, and I opened in the west end last year. I did it for a couple of months, and now here I am on the national tour.”
Although most people will be familiar with Mickey due to his role on the TV show, and formerly the band, The Monkees, the performer has had a long theatre career in the years since the show ended. In the US, Mickey starred in Pippin’, Grease and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum.
In the early 1980s, he directed a stage version of Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone in the west end, the cast of which included a then unknown 14-year-old Catherine Zeta-Jones.
He was on Broadway when the first production of Hairspray opened.
“I’m quite familiar with the original film starring Rikki Lake. I went to the premiere in Los Angeles, and I certainly remember when it opened on Broadway, because I was doing the Elton John and Tim Rice production of Aida on Broadway at the same time,” he said.
“I went to see Hairspray with the original cast, and I loved it. I thought it was fantastic.”
With an original score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Hairspray is set in 1962, when Baltimore’s Tracy Turnblad – a big girl with big hair, a big heart, and a big passion for dancing – wins a spot on a local TV dance programme.
Overnight, she is transformed from outsider to irrepressible teen celebrity – but can a dance and fashion trendsetter vanquish the programme’s reigning princess, win the heart of heart-throb Link Larkin and integrate a television show without denting her ’do?
Joining Mickey in one of the unlikeliest partnerships in theatre, as his wife, Edna, is Michael Starke, famed for starring in two hugely popular TV soaps – as Sinbad in Brookside for 16 years and as kebab shop owner Jerry Morton in Coronation Street.
“It’s a great cast, really wonderful. And of course the show is great and we’re just about sold out everywhere, which helps,” said Mickey.
“I’ve lost count of the number of venues I’ve done. I’ve been doing it since November, and every two weeks we move; you do the math. The travelling part I’m not crazy about, it kind of wears you out, but that comes with the territory.”
Having been in the music industry at the time of Hairspray’s setting, Mickey said the music was a huge draw for him, having auditioned for the Monkees with a rendition of Johnny B. Goode.
“The music is fantastic. I was a teenager during that period, and there was a local dance show on in LA, I remember it was called Lloyd Baxter’s Dance hour, and every city at the time had a local show, just like in Hairspray, so I’m quite familiar with the music, and that whole era,” he said.
“Mind you, it’s never one thing in a show or movie that makes it great. I don’t think you can reduce the success of a show down to one element; it’s always a combination.
“You put together a great story, music, cast, direction and choreography and at some point the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t take it apart: the music in any musical has a very important role to play, but so does the story, the theme, the performances. With a show like Hairspray, every single bit is great: the original story is great, the music is fantastic, and it’s kind of hard to mess it up.”
Hairspray is one of a number of huge musicals which will appear at HM Theatre this year, and caused a buzz in the city when it was announced. With the original film released in 1988, music from the 50s, and countless tours, it’s easy to see why the show appeals to all.
“It’s a huge show, there’s no doubt about that,” said Mickey.
“I get attracted to a project because of the quality of the material, and it doesn’t get much better than Hairspray.
“I have three daughters in their 20s and, when I told them I’d got the role, I think they just thought: ‘Oh what’s daddy doing now?’
“One of my daughters has had the chance to see the show as she was living in London when I first started. The others haven’t seen me in the theatre since Aida.”
Of course, if you don’t manage to catch Hairspray, there is another chance to catch Mickey later in the year, as the Monkees, minus Michael Nesmith, have announced a UK tour, appearing at Glasgow.
“The Monkees’ tours seem to come in 10 or 12-year cycles for some reason. I always say make me an offer,” said Mickey.
“I’ve never said no; I never say I don’t want to do it any more. The Monkees group is one of those things that lasts, it hangs around, because of the show and the music.
“Nowadays at our concerts there can be two or three generations of the same family; the original fans from the 60s, and their children who watched it on TV bring their kids.”
With two jobs in Scotland this year, Mickey is looking forward to a long-overdue return.
“When I lived in the UK, we used to go to Gleneagles and Loch Lomond and Loch Ness for family holidays, so I’m very familiar with Scotland, I love it.
“I always have a great time when I go up.” - The Press and Journal