Former Steps star Ian ‘H’ Watkins and Two Pints of Lager’s Natalie Casey (pictured) – who this week cheered on her TV co-star Sheridan Smith at the West End opening of Little Shop of Horrors (See WOS TV, 13 Feb 2007) – will lead the new cast of Fame, as the long-running musical returns to London, opening on 8 May 2007 (previews from 4 May) for a limited summer season at the Shaftesbury Theatre, its fifth West End home.

In addition to her TV roles as Donna in Two Pints of Larger (and a Packet of Crisps) and Carol Groves in Hollyoaks, Casey, who plays Serena in Fame, has appeared on stage in Hobson’s Choice, The Vagina Monologues and The Flint Street Nativity. Since his chart-topping days with pop group Steps, Watkins, who plays Nick, has appeared on tour and in the West End in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, for which he was nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Award. He was seen on TV earlier this year in Celebrity Big Brother.

The new London cast of Fame will also include Natalie Kennedy, Desi Valentine, Fem Belling, Phil Cole, George Maguire, Emma Francis, Danielle Cato, Kevin McGuire, Fabien Eloise, Chris Piper, Sean Selby, Hannah Job, Vicki Marie Ryan, Lewis Griffiths, John Reynolds and Jacqui Biggs.

Based on Alan Parker's 1980 Oscar-winning film and the American TV series of the same name, Fame follows a group of students from New York’s School for the Performing Arts through the highs, lows, friendships, romances and hard work necessary in their quest for success.

Fame first opened in the West End at the Cambridge Theatre in 1995, when it was nominated for two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and Best Choreography. It returned in 1998 for a run at the Prince of Wales Theatre. The musical's last West End run began in October 2000 at the Victoria Palace (its second outing at that venue, where it also played in 1997) before transferring back to the Cambridge in September 2001 and then in 2002 to the Aldwych where if closed last April to make way for Dirty Dancing (See News, 24 Feb 2006).

In other West End musical cast updates, Dianne Pilkington will take over from Helen Dallimore as the extremely “Popular” Glinda in Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award-winning musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, from 16 July 2007. Pilkington’s many musical credits include The Far Pavilions, Tonight's the Night and Taboo in the West End and national tours of Cats and Beauty and the Beast. Dallimore, meanwhile, will reprise her role as the good witch in the Australian production of the musical, which opens in 2008.

Wicked, which opened on 27 September 2006 (previews from 7 September) is currently booking through to March 2008, tells the “untold story” of the Witches of Oz - popular blonde Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and her spin-victim friend Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West – who were both immortalised in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. The show has a book by Winnie Holtzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

The current cast also features Kerry Ellis (as Elphaba), Adam Garcia, Nigel Planer, Martin Ball, James Gillan, Katie Rowley Jones and, as Madame Morrible, Whatsonstage.com Award winner Miriam Margolyes, who is replaced by Susie Blake on 2 April (See News, 1 Feb 2007). The London production reunites the New York creative team, led by director Joe Mantello and designer Eugene Lee.


Meanwhile, from 21 May 2007, Scarlett Strallen flies back into the Prince Edward theatre as Mary Poppins - a role she played previously in 2005 (See News, 21 Oct 2005) - taking over from current nanny, Lisa O'Hare. Strallen’s other musical credits include The Witches of Eastwick, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang HMS Pinafore and – in the break between Poppins portrayals - the Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical version of Merry Wives.

The current cast also includes Gavin Creel as Bert, Aden Gillett as Mr Banks and Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Banks.

In addition to the new leading lady, the show will be holding Family Nights from 1 May 2007, with performances at 7.00pm (as opposed to the usual 7.30pm) on Tuesday nights, and a ticket offer for both Tuesday and Wednesday nights enabling every full-paying adult to buy two half-price children’s seats in the top three price brackets.

Mary Poppins, which opened at the Prince Edward on 15 December 2004 (following previews from 6 December and out-of-town dates in Bristol), is based on the children’s stories by PL Travers and co-directed by Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne. It has a book by Julian Fellowes and new music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, in addition to many of the Sherman brothers’ original film songs. The production is choreographed by Bourne and Stephen Mear and designed by Bob Crowley.


And finally, on tour, Jonathan Wilkes, Claire Sweeney, Louise Dearman and Brian Capron are to star in Michael Grandage’s multi-award-winning production of Guys and Dolls.

Wilkes, whose previous musical credits include Grease, Godspell and The Rocky Horror Show on tour and in the West End, will play Sky Masterson at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal (from 3 to 14 April), Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre (17 to 28 April) and Oxford’s New Theatre (15 to 26 May).

Brian Capron, who also featured in The Rocky Horror Show and is best known as killer Richard Hillman in ITV soap Coronation Street, will play Nathan Detroit at Nottingham and Sheffield, while Claire Sweeney, who has already featured in Guys and Dolls both in the West End and on tour, returns to the show in the role of Miss Adelaide. Louise Dearman, who has also appeared in the West End production of the musical, as well as Grease, Jekyll and Hyde and Joseph on tour, will play Sarah Brown.

Based on Damon Runyon’s short stories about New York gamblers and their girls in the 1940s, Frank Loesser’s 1950 musical was made into a 1953 Hollywood film starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra. Grandage’s stage revival is designed by Christopher Oram, with choreography by Rob Ashford, musical supervision by Jae Alexander, lighting by Howard Harrison and sound by Terry Jardine and Chris Full.

- by Caroline Ansdell & Terri Paddock