Head start for 'Hairspray' in West End awards

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The Independent Culture

Hairspray, the larger-than-life rock 'n' roll Cinderella-style musical set in 1962 Baltimore, has won a record number of nominations for the prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards.

The tale of Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager who defies prejudice by proving she is talented enough to dance on the Corny Collins TV show, combines joyous spectacle with a storyline about racial segregation.

Transported from Broadway to the West End, and based on the film of the same name by John Waters, Hairspray has been nominated in 11 categories, including best new musical, at the 32nd Olivier Awards, which recognise excellence on the London stage.

The newcomer Leanne Jones, who stars as the ebullient Turnblad, is up for best actress in a musical, while Michael Ball, who won critical acclaim for his performance in the pantomime dame role as Tracy's mum Edna, is in the running for best actor in a musical.

Jones said: "I think its success is down to its heart-warming story and the fact that it's so joyful and colourful and exciting. Everybody can relate to the story of being an outsider and the fact that the outsider triumphs. It's accessible to all ages."

The awards manager, Michael Cregan, said: "Hairspray has come off the back of film and Broadway success. It's the highest number of nominations ever, which speaks for itself that Hairspray has just overwhelmed people."

The popularity of musicals – largely due to reality TV shows such as the BBC's How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do and ITV's Grease Is The Word – helped to boost theatre attendances in London by 10 per cent to 13.63 million in 2007, and the genre has received the majority of nominations for the Oliviers. Terri Paddock, the editorial director of WhatsonStage.com, said it was surprising that neither Joseph nor its star Lee Mead, who won Any Dream Will Do, feature in the Olivier nominations. "Hairspray's success is incredibly well deserved and I think it will do very well on the awards night," she said. "It's interesting in that the West End has had success in 2007 with Joseph and Grease, but neither feature."

Other contenders for best new musical are Parade, The Drowsy Chaperone and The Lord of the Rings. War Horse, Michael Morpurgo's family drama about a boy's relationship with his horse which is sent into combat in the First World War has been nominated in six categories, including best new play.

Click here for full list of Olivier nominations