Prior to taking on her winning role of Nancy in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (See News, 2 Jun 2008), I’d Do Anything victor Jodie Prenger (pictured) will appear in another Cameron Mackintosh production.

Prenger is currently in rehearsal to join the company of Boubil and Schonberg musical Les Miserables from 26 August 2008 at the Queen’s Theatre, where she’ll perform a number of small roles as part of the ensemble in order to gain West End experience before she faces critics at Drury Lane. She’ll appear for roughly four weeks, but with no specific performance schedule.

A statement released by Mackintosh’s office today explained: “Since winning the BBC show I’d Do Anything, Jodie has been working hard to build upon the training she underwent during the programme. Cameron Mackintosh has already arranged for Jodie to attend the summer school at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and has given her the opportunity to join the company of Les Miserables as part of the ensemble, so she can experience what it is like to be regularly performing in a West End musical environment. Jodie has jumped at the chance of gaining experience before she starts rehearsals for Oliver! in November.

“Jodie will only perform a variety of small characters in the ensemble of Les Miserables but not any principal or featured roles. The similar 19th-century backdrop of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is the ideal low-key environment for Jodie to prepare herself for Dickens and Lionel Bart’s Oliver! this December at Drury Lane.”

Cameron Mackintosh personally added: “One of the great things about Jodie is that she grasps every opportunity offered to her and she is eager to work. When she won I\'d Do Anything, Jodie told me that she didn\'t want to sit around for six months but wanted to really use the time before going into rehearsals. I\'m delighted that this is one of the things she\'s chosen to do.”

From I’d Do Anything’s predecessor competitions, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? winner Connie Fisher trained at drama school and Any Dream Will Do’s Lee Mead had already performed professionally in the West End, understudying in The Phantom of the Opera as well as touring. Although Prenger, the “people’s choice” Nancy, has experience as a cabaret and cruise ship singer, she has not worked in theatre before.

The performance schedule for Oliver! has still not been finalised but, at the end of the TV competition in May, producers took the precaution of committing Prenger to only six, as opposed to the full eight, performances a week. The show’s official website says: “Sickness and holiday permitting, we have decided that Jodie Prenger is scheduled to perform on Monday and Tuesday evenings, Wednesday matinees, Friday evenings and both performances on Saturday”.

Also now confirmed for the cast Oliver! when it opens at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 14 January 2009 (previews from 12 December 2008) are: Julian Glover as Mr Brownlow and Louise Gold as Mrs Sowerberry.

Glover’s many non-musical stage credits include, most recently, The President’s Holiday, The Voysey Inheritance, The Dresser, Richard II, King Lear and Taking Sides. A musical veteran, Gold has appeared in the West End in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins, Kiss Me Kate, Follies, Anything Goes, Assassins, The Pirates of Penzance and Ziegfield.

As previously reported (See News, 2 Jun 2008), the 75-strong company will also feature Rowan Atkinson (as Fagin), Burn Gorman (Bill Sikes), Julian Bleach (Mr Sowerberry) and Rosemary Leach (Mrs Bedwin) as well as the three boys chosen by Cameron Mackintosh and I’d Do Anything judge Andrew Lloyd Webber to alternate in the title role: Gwion Jones, Harry Stott and Laurence Jeffcoate.

Oliver! is directed by Rupert Goold, based on Sam Mendes’ 1994 staging at the London Palladium. Goold is joined by two key members of Mendes’ original creative team, Matthew Bourne, who co-directs and choreographs the new outing, and set designer Anthony Ward. Lighting is by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Groothuis, orchestrations by William D Brohn and musical supervision by Martin Koch. Mendes’ production ran for 1,366 performances from December 1994 to February 1998 at the Palladium, where it grossed more than £40 million.

In casting news on another Cameron Mackintosh musical, The Phantom of the Opera, the West End’s second longest-running musical after Les Miserables, welcomes several new principals from 8 September 2008.

Simon Bailey - a former member of last year’s Theatreland “supergroup” Teatro, whose previous West End credits include We Will Rock You and Les Miserables - takes over as Raoul, alongside other newcomers Gina Beck (Les Mis) as Christine, Barry James (Little Shop of Horrors, Cabaret) as Monsieur Firmin, Gareth Snook (Assassins, Company, Sunset Boulevard) as Monsieur Andre, Tori Johns as Meg Giry and opera singer Kate Radmilovic as Carlotta.

Rohan Tickell returns to the role of Piangi, while Ramin Karimloo continues to star as the Phantom, with Robyn North as Christine at certain performances and Heather Jackson as Madame Giry.

The Phantom of the Opera celebrates its 22nd birthday at Her Majesty’s theatre on 9 October 2008. In 1999, it was named the 20th century\'s most successful money-making show, dwarfing even blockbuster Hollywood films like Titanic at the box office. In December 2004, Lloyd Webber released the £55 million big screen version, directed by Joel Schumacher.

Worldwide, the stage version has been seen in 124 cities in 25 countries, played to over 100 million people, grossed over £1.7 billion and won 50 major awards, including three Oliviers in London. The production is directed by Harold Prince and produced by Mackintosh and the Really Useful Group. It’s currently booking until 25 April 2009.

- by Terri Paddock