Les Dennis on performing in Hairspray the Musical and using fingernails as toothpicks

Virgin Radio

1 Jun 2021, 09:59

The presenter, actor and comedian joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky to talk about appearing in Hairspray the Musical, which returns to the West End from 21st June at the London Coliseum.

Les told Sam Pinkham and Gaby Roslin, who are in for Chris this week, that he’s excited about the show opening. “We’re in rehearsals for Hairspray and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a fantastic musical and it’s a really timely musical. It’s about integration. It’s so timely right now, and joyous. We can’t wait to get back into the theatre.” 

He explained to Sam and Gaby that, initially, the West End show will play to a reduced audience due to Covid-19 restrictions, but that they are hoping to return to full capacity as soon as possible. “The Coliseum is the biggest theatre in London and we will, at first on the 21st June, start with socially-distanced performances, but once we get the go-ahead, as many people as possible… I think it’s up to 3,000... can fill that theatre. We can’t wait for that sound of applause, of laughter, of joy.” 

Hairspray the Musical is set in 1960’s Baltimore, where Tracy Turnblad (played by Lizzie Bea) wins a role on a local TV dance show, and her overnight celebrity status leads to social change as she campaigns for the show's integration. Les plays Tracy’s father, Wilbur, who owns the Har-De-Har Hut joke shop. He stars opposite Michael Ball, who is reprising his Olivier-winning performance as Edna Turnblad, Wilbur’s wife.

Les told Sam and Gaby, “Edna, Wilbur and Tracey Turnblad are a force as a family. Wilbur is a lovely part to play because he is this loving dad and husband. There is a point where Edna says, ‘The joke shop is your life,’ and he says, ‘No you two are my life. My two funny honeys.’ He loves them so much.” 

He added, “I get to snog Michael Ball eight times a week!”

The musical is based on the 1988 film directed by John Waters and starring Debbie Harry. Its 2007 remake featured Zac Efron, John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer. The film was adapted for London’s Shaftesbury Theatre in London in 2007. Les performed the role of Wilbur when that production went on tour. “I get to do a wonderful song, a duet with Michael Ball, You’re Timeless to Me, which is just joy every night, because I did it when it came out of the West End last time, which is about 13 years ago now. We went on tour with it. It hasn’t been in the West End for a good 13 years, so it’s great to bring it back.”

As well as asking Les about his upcoming role in Hairspray, Sam and Gaby were also keen to quiz him about a slightly less appealing subject, namely the rumour that he uses his fingernails as toothpicks! “This is going to haunt me, isn’t it?” Les laughed when admitting there was some truth to the story. “This came from when I was on Would I Lie to You?. It’s something I’ve stopped doing since I did the show. It’s recycling!” 

The comedian explained, “It’s like a better toothpick. But I don’t do it anymore! The reaction on social media was big. Some people admitted to doing it themselves and other people were like ‘Oh my God,’ and then other people were like, ‘What? Your toenails?’ And I go, ‘No! Not my toenails!’”

Justifying his former habit, Les said, “We all stick our fingernail in don’t we, when they’re on?”

When Gaby suggested that using a fingernail as a toothpick sounded like an incorrect answer on Family Fortunes, which Les famously hosted, it brought back memories of the presenter being caught out by an answer. “The question was, ‘Name a way of toasting somebody,’” he explained. “This woman said, ‘Over an open fire.’ And I said, ‘If it’s up there I’ll give you the money myself!’” 

Much to everyone's surprise, the answer was indeed correct. “It was worth £12, so it must have been one of the lower answers, but it was there. Of our 100 people, 12 people said it! Luckily it was only £12. It wasn’t the jackpot!”

Hairspray the Musical runs from 21st June until 29th September 2021 at the London Coliseum. For tickets and Information, visit londoncoliseum.org

For more great interviews listen to The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.