Jenna Russell said she was delighted to be joining the cast of the Menier Chocolate Factory’s Award-winning production of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George (See News, 10 Feb 2006), as the company prepares for a West End transfer to the Wyndham’s Theatre on 23 May 2006 (previews from 13 May).

At a press conference held at the Menier this afternoon to launch the transfer of the show with its new leading lady (Russell takes over from Anna-Jane Casey as Dot), Russell said she hadn’t planned to go straight into another musical after Michael Grandage’s revival of Guys and Dolls - for which she was nominated for both Olivier and Awards – “but this came along and I didn’t have to think about it, I’m delighted to be doing it.”

She told “I wanted to see this show so much when it opened, that Jane Krakowski and I came to the second preview of it on the first Sunday we had off from Guys and Dolls. We were sat there sobbing. I was so profoundly moved by it.” She added: “I would have loved to have been involved with this from the beginning, if I hadn’t been in Guys and Dolls. I’m really excited about it.”

Dot is the mistress and muse to French impressionist George Seurat, played by Daniel Evans. Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 musical begins in 19th-century France, where the impoverished painter battles with his art and his personal life. The action then shifts to modern America where Georges’ great-grandson is facing similar problems.

Evans will reprise his role in the West End along with the rest of the current cast including Simon Green, Alasdair Harvey, Mark McKerracher, Liza Sadovy and Gay Soper. Evans told “I always wanted to play this role. I did Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar (for which he won an Olivier) and then I did Candide and I listened to the music for Sunday in the Park and just connected with it and thought, ‘Oh my God, I would love to play this role’. But I thought I’d never be cast as George because I always thought he had to be tall and imposing – and I’m practically a dwarf! George is never off stage. I only get about five minutes in each performance off stage. It’s this kind of Krypton Factor test with each show.”

At today’s launch event, Russell and Evans sang the title song for an invited audience and were joined by the rest of the company in live performances of “Sunday” and “Putting It Together” from the show.

Sam Buntrock’s acclaimed revival of the Sondheim musical opened at the Menier in Southwark, south London, on 29 November 2005 (previews from 18 November). When a three-week extension was announced (See News, 4 Jan 2006), the extra dates sold out within days. The Menier run finishes on 12 March 2006.

Artistic director of the Menier, David Babani, said: “We always thought it would be popular but not to the extent that it has been. It is wonderful to be taking the show into the West End so that a wider audience can see it. Essentially it is so simple, and that’s what I love about it. Some people think Sondheim is less accessible than other musical writers, but Sunday in the Park is beautiful love story, and it’s so magical. You don’t get that very often.”

Sunday in the Park with George has music by and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by James Lapine. The Menier’s is the first major London production since the National staged the musical’s UK premiere in 1990 (See News, 21 Oct 2005). The production features ground-breaking computer-generated set design by David Farley and Timothy Bird, who jointly won this year’s Critics’ Circle Award for Best Designer for their efforts (See News, 31 Jan 2006). The production was nominated for five Theatregoers’ Choice Awards and won Best Off-West End Production (See News, 31 Jan 2006).

In the West End, Sunday in the Park with George is presented by Broadway producer Boyett Ostar, David Babani and Danielle Tarento for Chocolate Factory Productions, Caro Newling for Neal Street Productions and Mark Rubinstein. Currently at Wyndham’s, David Grindley’s new production of Joanna Murray Smith’s Honour, starring Diana Rigg and Martin Jarvis, which opened on Tuesday 14 February 2006, has a limited run to 6 May.

- by Caroline Ansdell

Daniel Evans & Jenna Russell, who play George & Dot

Evans, Russell & Menier joint artistic director David Babani