UPDATED, Tue 17 Apr 2007: This story has now been updated with full casting information about narrators in Side by Side by Sondheim.

Two West End musicals - Billy Elliot and Avenue Q - will soon have new leading ladies, while the upcoming revival of Side by Side by Sondheim has attracted a company of West End regulars and big name narrators.

From this Monday 16 April 2007 at the Noel Coward Theatre, newcomer Jennifer Tanarez will be the new Christmas Eve in Avenue Q, taking over from Naoko Mori. Just graduated from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in September 2006, the role will mark Tanarez’s professional West End debut.

Billed as an adult version of Seasame Street, Avenue Q began its life at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre before transferring in July 2003 to Broadway’s Golden Theatre, where it went on to win three 2004 Tony Awards including Best Musical. A cast of seven – three of them playing humans, the rest manipulating multiple puppets that include a closet gay puppet called Rod, a porn-addicted puppet called Trekkie Monster, and a puppet looking for love called Kate Monster – tell the characters’ tales of love and hardship on the downtown street.

Avenue Q has a score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and a book by Jeff Whitty, with puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, musical supervision by Stephen Oremus, and choreography by Ken Roberson. The current West End cast also features Julie Atherton, Jon Robyns, Simon Lipkin, Clare Foster, Sion Lloyd and Giles Terera, who collectively won Best Ensemble Performance in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards.

And at the Victoria Palace from 4 June 2007, Jackie Clune will take over from Whatsonstage.com nominee Sally Dexter in the role of dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot. Actor, comedienne, composer and broadcaster Jackie Clune’s theatre work includes the international tour of Mamma Mia!, Taboo and The Vagina Monologues in the West End and the one-woman show Julie Burchill Is Away at Soho Theatre.

The musical, which celebrates its second birthday on 12 May 2007, continues to break box office records at the Victoria Palace, while a Sydney production this December will be followed next year by the show’s Broadway premiere. The stage production – winner of the Olivier, Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard and Whatsonstage.com awards for Best Musical - reunites the creative team behind the award-winning 2000 film of the same name: director Stephen Daldry, writer Lee Hall and choreographer Peter Darling. It features an original score by pop singer-songwriter Elton John, with lyrics by Hall. It's designed by Ian MacNeil, with costumes by Nicky Gillibrand and musical supervision by Martin Koch.

Finally, at The Venue off Leicester Square (See News, 26 Mar 2007), Abbie Osman (the alternate Eva Peron in Evita), Josie Walker (The Beautiful Game) and Alasdair Harvey ( Sunday in the Park with George, Les Miserables, Aspects of Love will star in the new production of Side by Side by Sondheim, running for a limited 12-week season from 1 May to 14 July 2007 (previews from 26 April). They’ll be joined by guest narrators Angela Rippon (pictured), Christopher Cazenove, Les Dennis and Barry Cryer.

Side by Side by Sondheim was conceived by David Kernan, originally as a fundraiser, following a request from singer Cleo Laine and her husband John Dankworth. Cameron Mackintosh, then a fledgling producer, took the show – with direction and narration by Ned Sherrin – to the Mermaid Theatre and then to the West End’s Wyndham’s. In 1977, the production transferred to Broadway, where it received five Tony Award nominations, including one for the entire original company, which included Millicent Martin, Julia McKenzie, David Kernan and Ned Sherrin, with Tim Higgs and Stuart Pedlar on the pianos.

The revue features an array of some of Sondheim’s best-known work, including collaborations with Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne from classic musicals such as West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Follies, Pacific Overtures and A Little Night Music. Amongst the 31 songs featured in the piece are: “Comedy Tonight”, “Company”, “Another Hundred People”, “Broadway Baby”, “Everybody Says Don’t”, “Send in the Clowns” and “I’m Still Here”. The new production is directed by Hannah Chissick with musical staging by former Royal Ballet principal Adam Cooper. Cooper.

- by Terri Paddock