British diva Marti Webb will play at least two performances a week, filling in for Maureen Lipman as white slave trader Mrs Meers in the West End production of Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, which opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 21 October 2003, (previews from 11 October).

Confirmed for the cast in June (See News, 19 Jun 2003), Lipman has been contracted for six rather than the full eight performances a week, in order to build in flexibility to care for her husband of 30 years, the scriptwriter Jack Rosenthal, who is suffering from cancer. Earlier this year, Lipman was forced to withdraw from a touring revival of the Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden because of her husband's ailing heath (See News, 18 Feb 2003). The two actresses' rotation schedule for Thoroughly Modern Millie has not yet been confirmed.

Webb (pictured) is well known to West End audiences for her many starring musical roles in the likes of Evita, Cats, Oliver!, Stop the World I Want to Get Off and Tell Me on a Sunday, the original version of which was written especially for her by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black. She appeared last year in the touring version of The King and I.

Based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a musical comedy is set in 1920s New York where recent arrival-from-Kansas Millie Dillmount is determined to bob her hair, dance to jazz, get a job and marry her boss - all in the modern fashion.

The cast is led by TV's Amanda Holden in the title role with the other principal parts played by Sheila Ferguson (as millionaire's widow Muzzy), Mark McGee (Jimmy Smith), Helen Baker (Miss Dorothy), Craig Urbani (Trevor Graydon), Rachel Izen (Miss Flannery), Yo Santhaveesuk (Ching Ho) and Unku (Bun Foo). They're joined by an ensemble featuring: Adam Brooks, Chris Bailey, Christian Gibson, Donna Steele, Gabriella Khan, Hayley Flaherty, Jayde Westaby, Matt Flint, Mike Denman, Mike Scott, Nancy Wei George, Phong Truong, Pip Jordan, Rachel Barrell, Roberto Giuffrida, Selina Chilton, Tim Beaumont, Tobias Walbom, Vikki Coote and Zoe Hardman.

In addition to period tunes and songs from the film, Thoroughly Modern Millie features new numbers by Dick Scanlan (lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music), with a book by Scanlan and Richard Morris. The musical opened in April 2002 at Broadway's Marquis Theatre, where it continues to play, and was the big winner at the 2002 Tony Awards, taking home six trophies including Best Musical. The London production reunites the original Broadway creative team, including director Michael Mayer and designer David Gallow.

Currently at the Shaftesbury Theatre, the UK touring revival of Wild West musical comedy Calamity Jane, starring Toyah Willcox, is due to complete its limited season on 20 September 2003.

- by Terri Paddock