Stephen Daldry's hit West End Musical Billy Elliot has a new star in the form of 14-year-old Leon Cooke (pictured), who replaces James Lomas in the cast from next Monday 19 September 2005 as the aspiring ballet dancer.

Cooke, who comes from Newcastle under Lyme, will play Billy on rotation with George Maguire and Liam Mower, who along with Lomas created the role of Billy on stage. Other new cast members joining Cooke are Joey Phillips, 13 from Lytham St Annes, who will play Billy's friend Michael, and a new group of ballet girls. The young actors will star alongside Haydn Gwynne as Mrs Wilkinson the dance teacher, Tim Healy as Dad and Ann Emery as Grandma.

Set in the North East during the miner’s strike of the 1980s, Billy Elliot is a celebration of one young boy's dreams against the gritty reality of life. The film version, which was released in 2000, was written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daldry, and starred Jamie Bell as Billy and Julie Walters as Mrs Wilkinson. It was nominated for three Oscars and 13 Bafta awards and broke box office records across the world. The stage show, by the same creative team behind the movie, has a score by Elton John.

Cooke, who lives with his parents, five sisters and two brothers, is a Mid-Associate with the Royal Ballet at Birmingham. He has been dancing since the age of two and was last year nominated for the IDTA, Ken Dodd Tap Award. He said he is as ambitious as the fictional Billy when it comes to proving himself as a dancer. “I love ballet and my ambition is to be as good as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Angel Corella from the American Ballet Theatre,” he said today. “It seems like a dream now that I have been chosen to play Billy at the Victoria Palace and I am really looking forward to it.”

Phillips has been performing in pantomimes and amateur productions from the age of seven. He said today: “I am really excited about playing Michael in Billy Elliot, especially because it will be my first time on the West End stage.”

Since opening in March 2005, Billy Elliot has played to more than 250,000 people. The critically acclaimed show, produced by Working Title and Old Vic Productions plc, is now booking until 1 April 2006.

- by Caroline Ansdell