Dempsey and Makepeace's Michael Brandon will play American chat show host in the "trailer trash tragedy", Jerry Springer - The Opera, which premieres at the National Theatre next month. Previously a hit in concert form at Battersea Arts Centre and the Edinburgh Fringe, the new full-fledged production opens at the NT Lyttelton on 29 April 2003 (following previews from 9 April) for a limited repertory season of 48 performances up to 5 July.

Brooklyn-born Brandon is best know for his starring role in the 1980s cop show Dempsey and Makepeace. His other screen appearances include Jonathan Creek, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Rich and Famous, Lovers and Other Strangers and A Change of Seasons. His stage credits, on Broadway and in the US, have included Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, Speed the Plow, The Lady and the Clarinet and The Adjustment.

Conceived and created by writer and director Stewart Lee and composer Richard Thomas, Jerry Springer - The Opera started life in May 2001 at a "scratch" development night for new work at BAC and quickly took on cult status. It returned for a three-week sell-out season last February which attracted myriad celebrities and theatrical powers-that-be - including the NT's incoming artistic director Nicholas Hytner, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, Rocky Horror's Richard O'Brien and various other producers.

At the time (See The Goss, 20 Feb 2002), the show was being touted for an immediate West End and/or Broadway transfer. Instead, Lee and Thomas chose to take it to this year's Edinburgh Fringe and work with a National team, led by Hytner, to develop a fuller production. Also involved in the ongoing collaboration was original designer Julian Crouch (of Shockheaded Peter renown), Allan McKeown (Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and comedy producer Avalon.

Promising "triumph, tragedy and trailer trash as high art meets low", as the title suggests, Jerry Springer - The Opera is based on America's most lurid talk show host who has broadcast programmes such as "Pregnant by a Transsexual", "Here Come the Hookers" and "I Refuse to Wear Clothes". In the musical, Springer suffers the worst day of his career, during which he's taken from his studio to both heaven and hell, confronting some of his bizarre guests, including a Chick with a Dick and a diaper-wearing baritone, along the way.

Joining Brandon in the 36-strong cast, comprised largely of unknowns recruited following the National's first-ever open auditions, are: Andrew Bevis who just completed a starring role as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet - The Musical; Valda Aviks, whose many West End musical credits include The Witches of Eastwick, Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables; David Bedella, recently seen in Oh What a Night and in his native US in Smokey Joe's Café, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show; and Australian cabaret singer Alison Jiear, formerly a member of The Fabulous Singlettes, who has previously featured in The Hot Mikado, Grease and Smokey Joe's Café.

Jerry Springer - The Opera is directed by co-creator Lee and designed by Crouch, with costumes by Leah Archer, lighting by Rick Fisher, choreography by Jenny Arnold, orchestrations by Martin Koch, musical supervision by Martin Lowe and sound by Mike Walker.

- by Terri Paddock