Seven years ago, a teenage Rebecca Mendoza was in the audience when her favourite musical Hairspray came to the Liverpool Empire.
Now the hit show is returning to the Lime Street theatre this week – and instead of being in the stalls, Rebecca is firmly centre stage.
The Wirral actress is making her professional debut in the production. Not only that, but she’s playing the lead role of bubbly Tracy Turnblad, the big girl with big hair and even bigger heart who is on a mission to fulfil her dreams.
And it’s been something of a fairytale start to her career for the 24-year-old, who was in her third year at Italia Conti last spring when she got the chance of a private audition for the role.
“It was mental,” she laughs, recalling what happened. “I was in rehearsals for my third-year musical - I played Barbara Castle in Made in Dagenham – thinking, I need to get agents to come and watch me, all the preparations for getting a job when we leave.
“Then I got the job and couldn’t tell anybody about it until the end of May. Only really close family.
“I graduated on the Saturday, a week before we started rehearsals on the Monday. So literally I was in my cap and gown a week earlier, and then there I was with people who had been doing it, some of them nearly 30 years, and I was playing the lead role in a musical.
“It really can happen.”
It’s not simply luck however, with a determined Rebecca having worked hard and persevered in order to follow her dream career path, despite a series of knockbacks including being told by theatre schools that she wasn’t the right size for them.
She took two years out, teaching at Hoylake School of Dance and being coached by the principal and vice-principal. Then she auditioned for the prestigious Italia Conti.
“They weren’t bothered about size, shape, anything,” she says. “They said as long as you’re fit and healthy and capable, then you can do anything you want to.
“And I was the biggest girl in my year and the first person to get a job. I defied all odds.”
Through it all, Rebecca was inspired by her favourite musical. So what is it she loves so much about Hairspray?
“It’s got such incredible messages to the story as well as having great writing, great songs,” Rebecca suggests. “It tackles so many different obstacles, but in a fun way.
“It was just that inspiration to me that it doesn’t matter what shape, size, colour, look you are, anything. That if you put your mind to something you can do it.”
The current Hairspray tour started last summer but is only now finally making its way on to home turf – and Rebecca can’t wait.
“I used to do the Empire summer youth productions when I was 14, shows like Fame and Bugsy Malone,” she reveals. “But it’s going to be a really special moment to go back as a professional.
“I cried the first night in Manchester when the audience applauded, so God knows what I’m going to be like in Liverpool. I think I’ve got around 200 of my own family and friends and everyone on the Monday night, and 300 on the Wednesday night.”
Hairspray is at the Liverpool Empire from April 16-21. Tickets from the website HERE