Hairspray is a show famed for its big hair - and even bigger heart – as it tackles prejudice head on with glee.
And it’s a musical with a message that’s helped to get cast member Brenda Edwards through the toughest of times.
The former X Factor contestant returns to the role of Motormouth Maybelle in a new tour of the hit musical, which will light up the Sunderland Empire stage at the end of September.
Though she’s appeared in numerous musical theatre productions since reaching the semi-finals of the X Factor under Sharon Osbourne’s tutelage back in 2005, this one holds a particularly poignant place in Brenda’s heart.
“It was while I was playing the role last time that I discovered I had breast cancer in January 2016,” she explained. “So I feel like returning to the role is exorcising some demons for me. It was actually appearing in the show that got me through the treatment, and I jumped at the chance of coming back.”
Brenda has now completed her treatment, which included chemotherapy and a mastectomy operation.
Despite undergoing the gruelling procedures, she still managed to juggle it with her role in the musical.
“The cast and crew were very understanding, as were the audiences,” she said. “I sometimes had a bit of a problem with my voice because of the treatment, but appearing in the show really gave me a positive mental attitude. That uplifting message of Hairspray was one I carried with me off the stage.”
Stepping back into Motormouth’s platform shoes is the latest theatre role for Brenda who’s also appeared in Chicago and We Will Rock You.
It was singing a soulful rendition of Son of a Preacher Man on X Factor which caught the attention of Chicago producers who asked her to appear as Mama Morton in the musical.
It led to a career treading the boards, and the singer hasn’t looked back since.
Brenda says she relishes the challenge of singing live each night and feels that Hairspray has more of an important message than your average musical.
It’s set in Baltimore in 1962, where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV.
Tracy’s audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for equality. As well as being based on the 1988 film, the success of the musical spawned a hit film in 2007 which starred John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Brenda said: “Though it has its jokes and it’s really fun, it also deals with issues that are relevant to the current climate, surrounding race, gay rights and size. There are so many things in this world that people pick on each other about and it’s ridiculous. It’s got to stop and I really hope people see this show and it inspires them in a good way. I’ll be over the moon if that happens, it shows we’ve done our job.
“Tracy Turnblad is this big personality who tackles these issues and brings everyone together. It’s a show with a real message about unity and not being scared to be yourself. She shows that you can break down barriers, you just have to believe in yourself and not take no for an answer.”
She added: “People often say they didn’t realise it had that depth to the story and that it made them think. It’s clever that it does that, but in a jokey way.
“People really enjoy themselves at this show, it’s one of those musicals that, even if you don’t know the story beforehand, you enjoy it and end up leaving on a high.”
Brenda stars in the musical alongside comedian Norman Pace as Wilbur Turnblad, Matt Rixon as Edna, Layton Williams as Seaweed and newcomer Rebecca Mendoza as Tracy Turnblad. They’ll all be bringing to life the show’s lively score, which includes Welcome to the 60s, You Can’t Stop the Beat and The Nicest Kids in Town.
The new tour opens in Cardiff on August 16 before touring the country and heading to Sunderland from September 25-30.
Brenda gave a preview of what theatre-goers can expect with a special performance at the launch night of this year’s Sunderland International Airshow.
She said: “I remember being in Sunderland with We Will Rock You and the audiences were great then, so it’s been great fun being back.”
We’ve teamed up with Sunderland Empire to give away a pair of tickets to Hairspray when the new musical rolls into the city.
The tickets will be valid for the opening night of the performance’s week-long run, on Monday, September 25.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: In which reality show did Brenda Edwards rise to fame?
A) Pop Idol
B) X Factor
C) American Idol.
Email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk.
Alternatively, you can enter via post by sending your answer and contact details on a postcard to Hairspray Competition, Katy Wheeler, Johnston Press North East, 2nd Floor, Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road , Rainton Bridge Business Park, Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland, DH4 5RA. Entries will need to be received by Friday, August 11, and winners will need to be contactable via telephone.