While many musicals continue to be hit hard in the current economic climate, with Dickens Unplugged the latest to post closing notices yesterday (See News, 17 Jun 2008), two others - Les Miserables and Hairspray - have good news to celebrate this week.

At the Queen’s Theatre, further new principal casting has been announced for Les Miserables. In addition to reality TV contestants Leanne Dobinson and Nancy Sullivan (See News, 14 May 2008), West End favourites including Earl Carpenter, Jon Robyns and two-time Laurence Olivier nominee Jimmy Johnston will be joining the cast from next Monday, 23 June 2008.

Earl Carpenter (recently seen in the title role of The Phantom of the Opera) takes over as Javert, with Jon Robyns (the original Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q in the West End) as Marius and Jimmy Johnston (Olivier nominated for The Pirates of Penzance and Oklahoma!) as Thenardier, while as previously announced, Dobinson is Cosette and Sullivan Eponine.

Also joining the cast are Allyson Brown as Fantine and previous company members David Thaxton as Enjolras and Jackie Marks (Fantine in the original cast at the Barbican and in the West End) now playing Mme Thenardier. Broadway’s Drew Sarich continues to play Jean Valjean (See News, 6 Sep 2007).

The West End’s longest-running musical Les Miserables is now in its 23rd year and is currently booking through to 25 April 2009. Based on Victor Hugo's classic humanitarian novel about a persecuted man, Jean Valjean, in 19th-century revolutionary France, Les Miserables has a book by Alain Boublil, music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. It’s directed by Trevor Nunn with John Caird and designed by John Napier.

The landmark Royal Shakespeare Company production had its first performance on 8 October 1985 at the Barbican Theatre before transferring, care of Cameron Mackintosh, to the West End’s Palace Theatre two months later. It ran at the Palace for 18 years and over 7,500 performances before moving down the road to the Queen’s on 3 April 2004 (See News, 21 Nov 2003). Globally, the musical has been seen by over 55 million people in 40 countries and 21 languages.


And, at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre, the Broadway transfer of Hairspray - which swept the Best Musical prizes this year - has recouped its entire £3.5 million capitalisation in a record-breaking 29 weeks and is now booking through to 4 April 2009.

Hairspray premiered in August 2002 at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater, where it’s still running, going on to win eight 2003 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Based on John Waters' cult retro 1988 film and set in 1960s Baltimore, it tells the story of geeky overweight teen Tracy Turnblad, who finds celebrity on a TV dance programme. Can she get the guy and still have time to change the world?

In the West End, Michael Ball is Tracy’s mum Edna Turnblad, starring alongside newcomer Leanne Jones (pictured with Ball) as Tracy. The cast also features Ian Talbot (as Wilbur Turnblad), Ben James-Ellis (Link Larkin), Tracie Bennett, Rachel Wooding, Paul Manuel, Adrian Hansell, Elinor Collett, Natalie Best and Johnnie Fiori. The musical has a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whitman and Shaiman. As on Broadway, it’s directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. A big screen version, starring John Travolta as Edna, was released last summer.

Amongst its accolades to date, the West End production of Hairspray - which opened at the Shaftesbury on 30 October 2007 (previews from 11 October) – won the Evening Standard Best Musical award, two Critics’ Circle Awards (Best Musical, Best Newcomer for Jones), four Oliviers (Best New Musical, Best Actor and Actress in a Musical for Michael Ball and Leanne Jones respectively and Best Supporting Performance in a Musical for Tracie Bennett) and a remarkable seven Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, including Best New Musical, Best Actor and Actress in a Musical for Ball and Jones and, Best Supporting Actor and Actress in a Musical, for Ben James-Ellis and Bennett respectively).

- by Terri Paddock