West End stars Clive Rowe (pictured), Tameka Empson, Julie-Alanah Brighten and David Burt will headline this month’s world premiere of Promises and Lies (See News, 5 Jul 2005). The stage musical, fashioned around the hits of Birmingham-bred British reggae band UB40, has a limited season from 20 March to 15 April 2006 at Birmingham Rep, ahead of an anticipated West End transfer.

Similar to recent compilation musicals such as Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You, Our House and Tonight's the Night (based on the music of Abba, Queen, Madness and Rod Stewart respectively) which have all had West End runs, rather than recounting a biography of the band, in Promises and Lies, UB40’s hits are woven around a fictional story.

Set on the harder side of the city, Promises and Lies centres on characters who live on the tough fringes of society. The manipulators control everything, including the ordinary people whose lives are in their hands. These are the people we don't see, or perhaps choose not to see. But desperate people have hope, and they will fight. Not everyone chooses to be a statistic, not just a forgotten name on a list. According to promotional material, the musical – which takes its title from UB40’s 1993 Double Platinum Album - is “the uplifting story of people battling against the odds to survive on the edge of our deceptively glossy modern cities”.

Rowe’s previous London musical credits include Simply Heavenly, Chicago, Company, Carousel and, at the National, Guys and Dolls, for which he won an Olivier for his role as Nicely Nicely Johnson. Empson was nominated for an Olivier this year for The Big Life and also starred in Our House in the West End. Brighten’s credits include Beauty and the Beast, The Full Monty, La Cava, Tell Me on a Sunday and Kiss Me Kate, while Burt has most recently been seen in The Far Pavilions, Beautiful and Damned, Brighton Rock, Taboo and Closer to Heaven.

The cast of Promises and Lies also features: Anthony Cable, Paul Clarkson, Ryan Gage, Natasha Lewis, John Marquez, Martin Milnes, Sharon Wattis and Remi Wilson.

Since its first album was released in 1980, UB40’s 25 years’ worth of singles have included “Food for Thought”, “One in Ten”, “Red, Red Wine”, “Baggariddim”, “I Got You Babe”, “Rat in the Kitchen” and “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”, many of which are contained in Promises and Lies along with several new tracks written especially for the musical by the band.

The musical has a book by Jess Walters. It’s directed by the Rep’s outgoing artistic director Jonathan Church and designed by Simon Higlett with lighting by Chris Lewis, sound by Alan Mathieson, choreography by Francesca James and musical direction by Jeff Moore.

In other musical casting news from outside London, Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy – aka Curly Watts - will play the Child Catcher when the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang touches down in his home city of Manchester later this month (See News, 20 Oct 2005).

The tour of the stage musical, based on the 1968 children’s film classic, took flight on 9 December 2005 in Sunderland and continues, with lengthy stints in each town, to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Bristol and Southampton, where the UK schedule concludes on 15 September 2007. It will then set off on a European tour.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opens at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on 20 March 2006 for a run to 10 June. Kennedy, whose stage credits include Amos Hart in Chicago at the Adelphi and the Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, will play the role for nine weeks up until 20 May 2006. His replacement for the final three weeks in Manchester is yet to be announced.

The show tells the story of eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts and his children Jemima and Jeremy as they go on fantasmagorical adventures in their beloved four-fendered friend. Alongside Truly Scrumptious and batty Grandpa Potts, they try to outwit the dastardly Baron and the evil Child Catcher on the way. The Sherman Brothers’ original score includes “Truly Scrumptious”, “Hushabye Mountain” and the Oscar-nominated title song.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang finished its three-and-a-half year run at the West End’s London Palladium in September 2005. In the touring production, Brian Conley stars as Caractacus, the part played by Dick Van Dyke on screen and originated by Michael Ball on stage.

Finally, the guest stars for the latest Not(es) from New York - the West End’s platform for contemporary musical theatre - have changed. Double Olivier Award winner Joanna Riding and Richard Dempsey were due to join series regulars Paul Spicer and Julie Atherton in the showcase of songs by upcoming British composers Grant Olding and Charles Miller (See The Goss, 9 Feb 2006). Dempsey has had to withdraw due to other work commitments, and Riding “has reluctantly been forced to withdraw from her role due to unforeseen personal circumstances”, according to a show spokesperson. Anna-Jane Casey (Sunday in the Park with George, Mack and Mabel) will now headline the cast of Not(es) from New York at the West End’s Duchess Theatre on Sunday 19 March 2006, alongside Dougal Irvine (Rent), Atherton and Spicer.

- by Caroline Ansdell & Terri Paddock