Omid Djalili (pictured) will become the first Iranian to portray Charles Dickens’ legendary Jewish creation Fagin in Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, when he takes over from fellow actor-comedian Rowan Atkinson in Cameron Mackintosh’s record-breaking production at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane from 20 July 2009.

Well known as a stand-up from his various tours and stints at the Edinburgh Fringe, Djalili recently wrote and starred in The Omid Djalili Show, the second series of which will be aired on BBC One from next month. He’s also been seen on screen in the US sitcom Whoopi with Whoopi Goldberg and the films The Mummy, Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean III.

Oliver! opened, with the West End’s largest-ever advance of £15 million, on 14 January 2009 (previews from 12 December) and is currently booking through to 27 February 2010 (See WOS TV, 15 Jan 2009). Djalili will appear alongside I’d Do Anything victor Jodie Prenger, who continues in the role of Nancy, until 12 December 2009.

Cameron Mackintosh said today: “Oliver! has been a success beyond my wildest dreams and I’m thrilled that Rowan Atkinson has had such a tremendous triumph in a role I always thought he was born to play. The only way to follow such a unique performance is with a talent just as unique yet entirely different. No one could fulfil this criteria better than Omid Djalili. Omid started his career as an actor but was soon to become a major television star and one of the funniest comic actors and writers in Britain who regularly plays unforgettable cameos in movies. It is his ability to inhabit his characters with such comic energy and wily cunning that will make his Fagin his own.”

Atkinson made a West End comeback – and his musical debut - after more than two decades to lead the 80-strong company as Fagin (See News, 26 Mar 2008). Mackintosh has been asking him to play the part for 15 years.

The cast also features Burn Gorman (as Bill Sikes), I’d Do Anything’s Harry Stott, Gwion Jones and Laurence Jeffcoate (alternating as Oliver), Ross McCormack, Eric Dibb Fuller and Robert Madge (alternate as the Artful Dodger), Julian Glover (Mr Brownlow), Julius D'Silva (Mr Bumble), Wendy Ferguson (Widow Corney), Julian Bleach (Mr Sowerberry/Dr Grimwig), Louise Gold (Mrs Sowerberry/Mrs Bedwin) and Tamsin Carroll (alternate Nancy).

Oliver! is based on Charles Dickens’ literary classic Oliver Twist and, beyond its theatre fanbase, found legions of fans from the 1968 film version. The score includes now-famous songs including “Consider Yourself”, “It’s a Fine Life”, “As Long as He Needs Me”, “Oom-pah-pah”, “Food, Glorious Food”, “I’d Do Anything” and the title song.

The musical is directed by Rupert Goold, based on Sam Mendes’ 1994 staging at the London Palladium. Goold is joined by two key members of Mendes’ original creative team, Matthew Bourne, who co-directs and choreographs the new outing, and set designer Anthony Ward. Lighting is by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Groothuis, orchestrations by William D Brohn and musical supervision by Martin Koch. Mendes’ production ran for 1,366 performances from December 1994 to February 1998 at the Palladium, where it grossed more than £40 million.

- by Terri Paddock