Former Steps star Ian ‘H’ Watkins and Two Pints of Lager’s Natalie Casey donned their leg-warmers today (Thursday 22 March 2007) to launch the return of Eighties musical Fame to the West End. The show opens at its fifth London home, the Shaftesbury Theatre, on 8 May 2007 (previews from 4 May) for a limited summer season to (See News, 21 Feb 2007).

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.

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 Technicolor Dreamcoat, for which he was nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Takeover in a Role. He was seen on TV earlier this year in Celebrity Big Brother.

At this morning’s launch, held at the Shaftesbury, Casey told Whatsonstage.com how much she was looking forward to getting her jazz shoes on, and why she’s going to hit the gym. “I really wanted to do it just so I can lunge and do jazz hands for a couple of months! But also because it’s how I started out, I started out singing and dancing. I’d been doing TV for quite a while and I missed theatre. And it’s camp, with a very large C, which is important to me! I think people really respond to how feelgood and young and happy Fame is, and people need that. They need to have a laugh and go out dancing down the aisles. I think that’s why (the show) has had umpteen reincarnations, because people respond to the lightness and happiness in it.”

Casey continued: “I’m really going to have to limber up somewhat as I haven’t danced for years, since I was about 17. I’m quite worried I’m going to be the fat old one considering all the dancers are 17 and stick thin - I’m really going to have to hit the gym hard in the next few weeks. Or I might just get a selection of Eighties songs and dance round the living room to them!”

Watkins said the show is guaranteed to put everyone in a good mood, and drew parallels between his character in the musical, Nick, and himself. He told Whatsonstage.com: “Fame is such a feelgood show, perfect for getting everybody in a good mood. I love it so much, honestly. I saw it a few years back and fell in love with it – and especially the part I’m playing. I said ‘I’d love to play that part’ at the time, and luckily here I am. I play Nick, who’s supposed to be about 15 I think. At the audition, they came round and checked I could look younger if I shaved! He’s an actor on a TV show and he’s taken time out of his profession to invest in his future by training. He says he wants to become a real actor, not just a TV wanabee, and he wants to invest in his craft so that he can have longevity in his career. Which is funny because that’s quite similar to my story, really, so we have parallels; I wanted to invest in my future and have longevity as a performer, which is why I trained as an actor after Steps.”

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Watkins recalled: “I was incredibly nervous at the audition for Fame. Everybody thinks once you’re in the public eye you just walk into the role, but it doesn’t matter who you are, you’ve still got to audition. You might be able to jump the queue a bit if you have a name, but you’ve still got to get the job!”

He added: “Fame is a phenomenon. The TV show was absolutely huge and it’s such a big brand name anyway. But what lots of people don’t realise is the musical is very different to the TV show. It’s still about students in a performing arts school, but it’s completely re-written for the stage with, I think, even better songs. It’s so exciting. I want to see everyone at the theatre up on their feet in their legwarmers and headbands, dancing along!”

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 it closed last April to make way for Dirty Dancing (See News, 24 Feb 2006).

- by Caroline Ansdell