Any Dream Will Do winner Lee Mead has just return to the musical stage for the first time since his Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat days. Tonight (18 May, previews from 10 May), he officially takes over for a year as Fiyero in Wicked at the West End’s Apollo Victoria. He’s also undertaking his first solo concerts, starting off in his home town of Southend-on-Sea on 23 May. The TV experience has not only earned him success in his career but also his personal life - he married Any Dream Will Do judge Denise Van Outen and the couple recently had their first baby girl, Betsy.
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Lee Mead isn’t the only reality TV alumnus in Wicked. He’s joined by Rachel Tucker, who recently took over as the green-skinned lead Elphaba. Tucker shot to fame from the third instalment of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s reality TV shows I’d Do Anything, leaving the programme as a semi-finalist in the penultimate week. And although this is Tucker’s first leading lady role, she’s no newcomer to the West End. She comes to Wicked via Queen musical We Will Rock You, in which she played Meat.
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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? was the first of Lloyd Webber’s musical reality TV shows. And Connie Fisher wasn’t the only star to emerge from that inaugural series. While Aoife Mulholland - who is currently playing Brooke Wyndham in Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre, along with fellow reality alum Susan McFadden – came fourth in the competition, she has racked up the most West End credits. After being booted out of Maria, the Irish actress went straight into the West End to play leading lady Roxie Hart in Chicago, a role which she later reprised. And she also managed to play the part she so desperately fought for in the first place when Lloyd Webber cast her as the “alternate Maria” after Fisher was advised by doctors to not do the full eight shows per week.
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Another How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? eventual winner was Siobhan Dillon, who became known as the “Second Chance Maria” after replacing one of the original final ten who had dropped out. And Dillon is giving us all another “Second Chance” with her return to Grease at the Piccadilly Theatre but this time in leading role of Sandy. Dillon made her West End debut in the production in 2007 in the supporting role of Patty Simcox. Dillon’s Danny Noel Sullivan has had his own brush with reality success, as a former member of Hear'say, the pop band compiled on TV talent show Popstars.
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Despite missing out on the role of Nancy in Oliver! via another Lloyd Webber TV offering, I’d Do Anything, Niamh Perry, who was eliminated in the eighth week of the competition, still managed to achieve leading lady as Sophie Sheridan in the Mamma Mia! at the Prince of Wales theatre. And she was also given another chance by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself when he hired her to originate the role of Fleck in the world premiere of his Phantom sequel Love Never Dies at the West End’s Adelphi Theatre.
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Middle row: Connie Fisher, Jodie Prenger, Niki Evans, Ray Quinn
Bottom row: Maria Lawson, Aoife Mulholland, Niamh Perry
Niki Evans, who finished fourth after Welsh dynamo Rhydian Roberts in the 2007 series of ITV’s pop competition The X Factor, made her West End debut playing Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell’s long-runner Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre. Initially only contracted for six months, she extended for nearly a year before Melanie C stepped in. With the former Spice Girl’s stint over, Evans has returned to the role. Amongst her concert appearances, she wowed audiences at the 2009 Whatsonstage.com Awards Concert at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
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Another The X Factor alum, Maria Lawson was rejected by Simon Cowell at the “bootcamp” round of the competition in 2004 and then returned to the show the next year, when she became a finalist. In addition to her recording deals with Sony BMG, in 2009 she made her West End debut in Michael Jackson tribute concert Thriller Live. It's not just fans mourning Jackson's death that keep the show extending and extending...
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Strictly Come Dancing’s golden couple of 2009, Brian Fortuna and Ali Bastian, are performing live together for a limited run of new dance show Burn the Floor at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre from 19 July. Leaving the competition in the semi-final coming third, the couple returned for a TV Christmas special, gaining the highest score for their Viennese Waltz.
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The success of Connie Fisher since winning How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? might be the number one reason why we’ve had such an influx of reality TV stars treading the boards. She received rave reviews – as well as a Whatsonstage.com Award for Newcomer of the Year - as Maria von Trapp when The Sound of Music first opened at the London Palladium in 2006. After numerous extensions in the production, she took a break for a concert tour and a Menier Chocolate Factory stint in They’re Playing Our Song opposite Alistair Macgowan. Fisher is now reprising her Maria in the touring production of The Sound of Music with Michael Praed as her Captain von Trapp. The tour is currently at Venue Cymru in Llandudno before heading to the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne next month.
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Jodie Prenger won the last BBC musical theatre bout, I’d Do Anything, with the reward of playing Nancy in Oliver!, initially opposite Rowan Atkinson as Fagin, at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane – for which she went on to nab this year’s Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Supporting Actress in a musical. Since finishing Oliver! in March, Prenger has appeared as a guest panellist on Loose Women and a judge for finding Toto in Over the Rainbow. Prenger returns to the stage this month playing the role of the Lady of Lake (for selected dates only) in the first-ever tour of the Monty Python’s Spamalot which launches on 29 May at south London’s New Wimbledon Theatre.
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