Two West End musicals have announced major cast changes: Mary Poppins will have a new Bert from 26 June 2006, and Les Miserables has gathered show veterans for the musical’s 21st anniversary.

At the Prince Edward theatre, American actor Gavin Creel will star as Bert in Mary Poppins, taking over from Gavin Lee, who created the role when the show opened in 2004 and who will play the part when Mary Poppins opens on Broadway in November.

Creel created the role of Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway in 2002 and was nominated for a Tony Award. He was most recently seen on Broadway as Jean Michel in the revival of La Cage Aux Folles in 2004. His other credits include Stephen Sondheim’s Bounce at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. In Mary Poppins, hjoins Scarlett Strallen as the eponymous nanny.

The musical, 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.

Meanwhile, at the Queens Theatre, Hans Peter Janssens returns to Les Miserables to play Javert from Monday 26 June 2006. The actor has previously played Jean Valjean in the West End and is the only actor to play both roles in London.

Janssens will be joined in the 21st anniversary cast by several other Les Mis veterans: Jon Lee as Marius; Sophia Ragavelas, who won acclaim for her portrayal of Eponine and who now returns to the show to play Fantine; Sabrina Aloueche, a former Young Cosette who now plays Eponine; and Chris Vincent, who recently played Javert in the European tour, as Thénardier.

Elsewhere in the cast, Gina Beck makes her West End debut playing Cosette and Simon Bailey (We Will Rock You) will play Enjolras. John Owen-Jones, who is currently taking a brief break in order to star in the Royal Albert Hall revival of Show Boat, will continue to star as Jean Valjean, while Tracie Bennett continues her run as Madame Thénardier.

Based on Victor Hugo's humanitarian novel about a persecuted man in 19th-century revolutionary France, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil’s musical is directed by Trevor Nunn. The landmark production started life at the Royal Shakespeare Company in October 1985. It moved to the Queen’s Theatre in April 2004 after transferring from the Palace, where it ran for 18 years and over 7,500 performances (See News, 21 Nov 2003). Les Miserables is now the West End’s longest still running musical and just a few months away from breaking the record of 21 years set by another Cameron Mackintosh production, Cats, when it closed on its 21st birthday in May 2002.

- by Caroline Ansdell