Is the part of Fagin becoming a joke? It certainly holds a strong appeal for comedians. Griff Rhys Jones will return to the West End stage for the first time in more than a decade to take over the role in Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, following in the footsteps of fellow funny-men Rowan Atkinson and current star Omid Djalili.

Rhys Jones will start his six-month contract at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 14 December 2009. Meanwhile, I’d Do Anything victor Jodie Prenger has extended her contract through to March 2010 and, from today (15 September), will appear opposite Steve Hartley, who succeeds Burn Gorman as Bill Sikes, a role Hartley previously played in the 1990s at the London Palladium.

Speaking of his new Fagin, show producer Cameron Mackintosh said today: “I’ve wanted to work with Griff for years so I’m delighted that the marvellous role of Fagin has tempted him back to the stage this Christmas. Griff is an actor with an amazing array of successful talents, all of which will undoubtedly be poured into his unique and entertaining interpretation of one of Dickens’ most famous and beloved creations. I can’t wait!”

Rhys Jones became a household name in the 1980s and 90s thanks to TV sketch shows Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, which he’s followed over the years with series including Funnybones, Mine All Mine, Three Men in a Boat, Restoration (in which he urged the British public to vote for saving historic buildings and currently Rivers With Griff Rhys Jones. As a producer, he and Mel Smith set up one of Britain’s most successful productions companies, Talkback Productions.

On stage, Rhys Jones has won two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Comedy Performance, for Charley’s Aunt in 1983 and An Absolute Turkey in 1994. His other theatre credits include The Front Page (Donmar Warehouse), The Wind in the Willows (National) and Horse and Carriage (West Yorkshire Playhouse). He was last seen on stage in 2001 in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as part of the Covent Garden Festival. He also played a huge part in the restoration of the Hackney Empire.

Oliver! opened, with the West End’s largest-ever advance of £15 million, on 14 January 2009 (previews from 12 December) and is currently booking through to 27 February 2010 (See WOS TV, 15 Jan 2009).

The current cast also features Julian Glover (Mr Brownlow), Julius D'Silva (Mr Bumble), Wendy Ferguson (Widow Corney), Julian Bleach (Mr Sowerberry/Dr Grimwig), Louise Gold (Mrs Sowerberry/Mrs Bedwin) and Tamsin Carroll (alternate Nancy), as well as teams of alternating child stars.

Oliver! is based on Charles Dickens’ literary classic Oliver Twist and, beyond its theatre fanbase, found legions of fans from the 1968 film version. The score includes now-famous songs including “Consider Yourself”, “It’s a Fine Life”, “As Long as He Needs Me”, “Oom-pah-pah”, “Food, Glorious Food”, “I’d Do Anything” and the title song.

The musical 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.