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Extensions: Billy, Shop & Dirty; Brothers’ New Mum

By • West End
Three West End musicals – screen-to-stagers Dirty Dancing and Billy Elliot, and recent Menier Chocolate Factory transfer Little Shop of Horrors - have extended their booking periods.

At the Aldwych Theatre, Dirty Dancing, which had its UK premiere on 24 October 2006 (previews from 29 September), has extended by another seven months through to 18 October 2008. Set at an upmarket American holiday camp called Kellerman’s in the 1960s, the 1987 film of Dirty Dancing starred Jennifer Grey as the teenaged Baby Houseman who falls in love with the camp\'s working class dance instructor Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze, whose climactic line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”, has since become a classic.

Dirty Dancing has been adapted for the stage by the film’s screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, who based the story’s setting on her own childhood experiences of family holidays in America’s Catskill Mountains. The musical had its world premiere in Sydney in 2004 and has since proved a hit on tour in Australia and Germany as well as the UK. It opens in Toronto later this year with a Broadway transfer also planned.

The London production, directed by James Powell, currently stars Josef Brown (who originated the stage role of Johnny in Australia) and Georgina Rich. Since it opened in the West End last year (See WOS TV, 25 Oct 2006), more than 250,000 people have seen Dirty Dancing, generating record-breaking sales now in excess of £25 million at the Aldwych.


At the Victoria Palace, Billy Elliot - which celebrates its second birthday on 11 May - has added a full 14 months to its current booking period, releasing another half a million new tickets and taking it up to 20 December 2008 (it was previously booking to 20 October 2007). Set against the North-eastern mining strikes of the 1980s, the musical recounts the tale of a motherless boy whose father wants him to learn to box but who instead discovers a love for ballet that leads him from secret lessons to a place at the Royal Ballet School.

Current Billys, who share the role on rota, are 15-year-olds Leon Cooke and Dean McCarthy and 14-year-old Travis Yates. Also in the cast are: James Gaddas (Dad), Ann Emery (Grandma), Chris Lennon (Tony), Alex Delamere (Mr Braithwaite), Paul Broughton (George) and Sara Poyzer (Mum). Jackie Clune succeeds Sally Dexter as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson from 4 June (See News, 13 Apr 2007).

Since its opening, Billy Elliot has grossed over £55 million and been seen by more than 1.5 million people. Amongst the show’s many accolades are the sweep of the UK’s Best Musical/New Musical trophies at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circles, Whatsonstage.com and Olivier Awards. The stage production reunites the creative team behind the film: 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.


At the Duke of York’s, Little Shop of Horrors has added three months to its booking period, taking its schedule up to 1 September 2007. Following its Christmas season at the Southwark-based Chocolate Factory, for which it won this year’s Whatonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Off-West End Production, Little Shop opened in the West End on 12 March 2007 (previews from 6 March), with the original Menier cast – including Sheridan Smith, Paul Keating, Mike McShane and Barry James (who also starred in the original 1983 West End production) – joined by TV impressionist Alistair McGowan as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (See WOS TV, 13 Mar 2007).

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s musical is loosely based on Roger Corman’s popular low-budget 1960 film. Nerdy orphan Seymour (Keating) works in Mr Mushnik’s Skid Row florist shop, along with girl of his dreams Audrey (Smith), who is dating Scrivello. After a solar eclipse, Seymour discovers a peculiar plant with a bloodthirsty appetite, which he names Audrey II. As his infatuation with the real Audrey grows, so does the plant. The Menier revival is directed by Matthew White and designed by David Farley.


Meanwhile, at the Phoenix Theatre, West End long-runner Blood Brothers has welcomed a new Mrs Johnstone. Helen Hobson has taken over from Maureen Nolan as the poor mother of Liverpudlian twins tragically separated at birth, a role that’s also been played over the years by Barbara Dickson, Kiki Dee, Petula Clark, Siobhan McCarthy, Carole King, Helen Reddy, Stephanie Lawrence, Bernie, Linda and Denise Nolan.

Hobson has previously toured as Mrs Johnstone in the Willy Russell musical, and played Johnstone’s rich employer Mrs Lyons in the West End. She was most recently seen in the West End playing Donna in Mamma Mia!. Also in the current Blood Brothers cast are: Steven Houghton (narrator), Jay Roberts (Mickey), Joe Fredericks (Eddie), Joanne Zorian (Mrs Lyons), Debbie Eden (Linda) and Stephen Pallister (Mr Lyons).

Blood Brothers is directed by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright (who also produces) and designed by Marty Flood. This production, now in its 20th year, first opened on 27 August 1988 at the Albery Theatre before transferring to the Phoenix in November 1991. It’s currently booking through to 1 September 2007.

- by Terri Paddock


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