Ball’s dig­ging out his 54EEE trea­sure chest for Hair­spray

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Michael Ball flashed a broad smile and re­vealed that he will be step­ping into plus-size frocks once more — as laun­dress edna Turn­blad, in the joy­ously in­fec­tious mu­si­cal hair­spray.

The ac­tor won an Olivier award in 2008 for his por­trait of the Six­ties Bal­ti­more blue- col­lar fam­ily momma: an ago­ra­pho­bic whose teenage daugh­ter urges her to leave the house to help her change the world.

‘it’s the most lib­er­at­ing thing in the world to put on a frock and be­come edna,’ Ball told me.

how so? he blushed, then ex­plained. ‘ i don’t know. . . be­cause you’re not you. Wear­ing a dress gives you a li­cence to be re­ally free. To be rude.

‘ in a nice way,’ he added quickly. ‘To be flirty, in a wholly in­ap­pro­pri­ate way.’

We’re chat­ting in the Sky Bar at the lon­don coli­seum, home to the english Na­tional Opera, where hair­spray — with the original award-win­ning creative team of di­rec­tor Jack O’Brien, chore­og­ra­pher Jerry Mitchell and pro­ducer adam Spiegel — will run for an ini­tial 12-week sea­son from april 23 next year.

Ball ad­mit­ted to ‘bor­row­ing’ one of edna’s posh frocks (and a pair of shoes) af­ter tour­ing with the show ten years ago.

When i won­dered aloud whether edna was still, as she boasts in the show, a 54eee bra size, Ball chuck­led.

‘She is the same size; i’m not, luck­ily. She’s a big girl. i’ve still got the boobs at home. in a pri­vate place,’ he said, as we dis­cussed edna’s em­bon­point.

it’s com­pli­cated, this blokes play­ing women on stage busi­ness. For Ball, it means a fat suit and made- to- mea­sure dé­col­letage.

‘ They’re proper pros­thetic boobs,’ he in­sisted. ‘Boy, they weigh a bloody ton. They’re

huge! They go out­side the pad­ding, so you know what it

feels like to be a big girl.’ Danc­ing with them on can be tricky.

‘My back is knack­ered with the weight,’ Ball ad­mit­ted. ‘if you’re gonna dance, you have to hoik ’em up. But my move­ments are mod­elled on what women do.

‘i’ve fol­lowed women around su­per­mar­kets, think­ing: “how are they walk­ing? how do they reach for a can on a shelf?”

‘The moves are so del­i­cate, no mat­ter the size. it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch women ... for pro­fes­sional rea­sons!

‘But that’s what it takes to be­come edna. You play her for real. She’s a mother and a wife, with is­sues. if you don’t play her real, there’s no emo­tional arc.

‘You ab­so­lutely want to be­lieve that she’d do any­thing for her daugh­ter. in fact, she’s pro­tec­tive of ev­ery­one.’

ASFar as body shapes go, Ball noted: ‘edna’s my gran.’ his pa­ter­nal grand­mother agnes lil­lian (fondly known as aun­tie lil) was, Ball re­called, ‘ a big woman, al­ways around the house in a house­coat’.

‘edna even smells like my gran. Madame rochas per­fume — she al­ways smelled of that.’

Ball knew he wanted to play edna in the West end the mo­ment he saw har­vey Fier­stein orig­i­nat­ing the role on Broad­way in 2002.

The Bri­tish ac­tor had notched up star-mak­ing parts in les Mis­er­ables (cameron Mack­in­tosh cast him as male in­génue Mar­ius three decades ago, and for 16 weeks this sum­mer, from au­gust 10, he will take on the part of

hard-hearted in­spec­tor Javert at the Giel­gud), Phan­tom Of The Opera, as­pects Of love and The Woman in White. But he still had to au­di­tion for the part of edna.

Spiegel said fel­low cre­atives O’Brien and Mitchell were so adamant Ball be cast they wouldn’t let him see any of the run­ners-up. ‘They said it had to be Michael — and they were right,’ Spiegel said.

it was the mak­ing of Ball. he went on to star in Sweeney Todd at chich­ester Fes­ti­val Theatre — a per­for­mance that el­e­vated him as a thes­pian and earned him an­other Olivier award.

‘ Michael never stops grow­ing,’ O’Brien said. ‘When peo­ple like Michael and, say, Nathan lane, rise to the top of their pro­fes­sion, they’re ea­ger to ex­tend them­selves.’

(he’s right: Ball is cur­rently on the road, do­ing a con­cert tour to pro­mote his new chart-top­ping al­bum, com­ing home To You.)

We all agreed that hair­spray’s re­turn is timely. al­though the show’s packed with great songs and an up­lift­ing sen­si­bil­ity, it is, as O’Brien ob­served on the phone to me from New York, ‘sweetly sub­ver­sive’.

The hero­ine, Tracy Turn­blad,

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