Peter Polycarpou will head the cast of Imagine This, a new musical set in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War, when it opens on 19 November 2008 (previews from 4 November) at the West End’s New London Theatre (See News, 1 Jul 2008).

Polycarpou reprises his performance as Daniel Warshowsky, the head of a family of actors in the musical, which premiered last summer at the Theatre Royal Plymouth. In the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, a group stages plays to inspire hope and optimism within the Jewish community. However, with rumours of the Final Solution in the air, their play merges with the reality they are trying to escape and a dramatic love story unfolds.

A West End veteran, Polycarpou’s many previous credits include Oklahoma, The Secret Garden, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables and, more recently, All About My Mother. On television, he’s best known for his roles in Sunburn and Birds of a Feather.

Leila Benn Harris (Whatsonstage.com Award nominated for her takeover as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera) plays Polycarpou’s daughter Rebecca, who falls in love with the mysterious Adam, played by Simon Gleeson (Southwark Fair, The Far Pavilions).

Others featured in the Imagine This cast are Bernard Lloyd, Richard Cotton, Michael Matus, Gary Milner, Steven Serlin, Sevan Stephan, Saran Ingram and Cameron Leigh. The cast also includes Rachael Archer, Marc Antolin, Stuart Boother, Emily Jane Boyle, Oliver Brenin, Michael Camp, Joel Elferink, Bob Harms, Paul Iveson, Roy Litvin, Aoife Nally, Grant Neal, Darragh O’Leary, Vincent Pirillo, Philippa Stefani, Rebecca Sutherland, Carrie Sutton, Gemma Sutton, Lucy Thatcher and Michael Watson.

Imagine This has music by Shuki Levy, lyrics by David Goldsmith and a book by Glenn Berenbeim. The production is directed by Open Air artistic director Timothy Sheader and designed by is Eugene Lee, who won both a Tony and a Whatsonstage.com Award for Wicked. It has costumes by Ann Hould-Ward and choreography by DV8’s Liam Steel, with lighting design by Tim Mitchell, orchestrations by Chris Walker and musical supervision by Phil Bateman.


In other musical casting news, Francesca Jackson (pictured) is the latest Nancy finalist from TV’s I’d Do Anything to land a starring stage role. She joins pop singer Chesney Hawkes and another reality TV contestant, Siobhan Dillon from How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, in Barry Manilow’s Can\'t Smile Without You. The new compilation musical premieres on 1 September 2008 (previews from 28 August) at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre ahead of a three-month regional tour and planned West End transfer next year (See News, 30 Jul 2008).

Prior to I’d Do Anything, Jackson, who plays Lucy, was already a professional actress, with West End credits including Tonight’s the Night and Rent: Remixed (in which she appeared with I’d Do Anything judge Denise Van Outen).

Can\'t Smile Without You revolves around an aspiring young band who, on a visit to New York, come across an opportunity not to be missed - auditions for the latest reality TV show to find the next pop sensation. When the TV company offers lead singer Tony (Hawkes) a chance to appear on the show, the other band members give him their blessing. But before Tony can realise his dream, he’s caught up in a tragic sequence of events which leaves him fighting for his life. Left with no memory, his dreams are all but shattered. His only hope lies in the power of the music he loves and his feelings for a girl he once knew called Mandy (Dillon).

Can\'t Smile Without You has a book by Tim Prager based on an original idea by Bill Kenwright, who also produces the show and co-directs it with Keith Strachan. The production is designed by Andy Walmsley with lighting by Ben Cracknel, choreography by Carole Todd and musical direction by John Maher.

American singer-songwriter Barry Manilow has sold more than 75 million records worldwide. At the height of his success in the late 1970s, he had five albums on the best-seller charts in the US. His many easy-listening singles “I Write the Songs”, “Mandy”, “Looks Like We Made It”, “Weekend in New England”, “Ready to Take a Chance Again”, “I Made It Through the Rain”, “Can’t Smile Without You” and “Copacabana”.

The new musical features more than 30 Manilow songs and is endorsed by Manilow and his music executive Garry Kief. Following Bromley, Can\'t Smile Without You tours to Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester, Hull, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Northampton, Stoke and Newcastle, with further dates to be announced. A London venue and dates have not yet been confirmed.

- by Terri Paddock