In the latest round of musical casting updates, Mary Poppins has a new super-nanny, Tim Rice's Blondel bags a How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? contestant, and Anita Dobson heads to Lincoln to say Hello, Dolly!

At the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre, Scarlett Strallen will be replaced as the practically perfect nanny in Mary Poppins by Lisa O'Hare, who was in the musical’s original cast as a cover for Laura Michelle Kelly and who has since appeared on tour in My Fair Lady, sharing the role of Eliza Doolittle with Amy Nuttall. O’Hare takes over on 6 November 2006, following Strallen’s final performance on 4 November.

Joining O’Hare in the new cast are Rebecca Thornhill (The Witches of Eastwick, Ragtime, Singin’ in the Rain) as Mrs Banks, Zee Asha (Chicago) as Mrs Brill, Romy Baskerville as the Bird Woman and Howard Jones (already in the cast as Northbrook and understudying Bert) as Robertson Ay. Current cast members Gavin Creel, Aden Gillett, Louise Gold and Ray C Davis continue in their roles as Bert, Mr Banks, Miss Andrew and the park keeper.

Based on the children’s stories by PL Travers and co-directed by Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne, Mary Poppins has a book by Julian Fellowes and new music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, in addition to many of the Sherman brothers’ original film songs. The production is choreographed by Bourne and Stephen Mear and designed by Bob Crowley, and produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Thomas Schumacher for Disney Theatrical Productions.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’s “Tomboy Maria” Abi Finley will play Fiona in Tim Rice’s Blondel, which receives its first professional London production in over 20 years when it opens at north London’s Pleasance Theatre on 23 November (previews from 21 November) for a run to 31 December (See News, 5 Oct 2006).

Set in the 12th century, the sung-through musical addresses pertinent modern issues such as celebrity, war, politics, the monarchy, race and the difficulty of getting your songs played, as a mediaeval minstrel embarks on a quest (together with his feisty girlfriend, Fiona) to find the missing King Richard before vile Prince John seizes the English crown.

Finley stars opposite Chris Grierson (TV’s Hollyoaks), who plays the title role in Rice and Wildcard Theatre Company’s production. The cast also features Matt Harrop (as Prince John), Mark Inscoe (King Richard), David Paul West (the evil Leopold, Duke of Austria) and Napoleon Ryan (the ruthless assassin). The ensemble includes Charlie Tighe, Nick Trumble, James Durrant, Gavin James, Polli Redston, Zoë Harrison and Rebecca Seale.

Meanwhile, at the Theatre Royal Lincoln, Anita Dobson (pictured) takes the title role in a new production of Broadway classic Hello, Dolly!, which has a limited run from 16 November to 2 December 2006.

Dobson’s West End musical credits include The Pajama Game, Chicago and Thoroughly Modern Millie, for which she won a Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Takeover in a Role. Her many other stage credits include The Island of Slaves, Three Sisters and Frozen for which she was Olivier-nominated.

She’s joined in the cast of Hello, Dolly! by Rolf Saxon (The Graduate, Chicago), Alistair David, Spencer Charles Noll, Simone Craddock, Amanda Salmon, Samuel Board, Brenda Moore, Hilary O'Neil and Christopher Marlowe.

Jerry Herman’s 1964 Broadway musical was made into a film in 1969, starring Barbra Streisand in the title role. Widowed matchmaker Dolly Levi takes a trip to Yonkers, New York to see prominent, wealthy bachelor Horace Vandergelder. While there, she persuades him, his two stock clerks, his niece, and her beau to go to New York City, where Dolly tries to arrange a match between the two clerks and the woman Vandergelder had been courting and her shop assistant over a hectic dinner.

- by Caroline Ansdell