Helena Blackman, the runner-up from How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?, the BBC One TV competition to win the lead in the upcoming West End production of The Sound of Music, will head to Leicester this Christmas to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the final in-house production at the existing Leicester Haymarket.

The musical runs from 1 December 2006 to 20 January 2007. The building then closes its doors on 28 January, ceasing producing activities for at least a year before relocating in 2008 to a new, £52 million, state-of-the-art, city centre theatre, under a still-to-be-announced new name. The move to the purpose-built complex will complete a major turnaround for the Haymarket, which was founded in 1973 and is run by the Leicester Theatre Trust. In July 2003, the Haymarket was forced to close for more than a year to avert a financial crisis (See News, 20 May 2003).

The Wizard of Oz is directed by Haymarket joint artistic director Paul Kerryson, who commented on the casting of Blackman: “We are all thrilled that Helena will be swapping the habit and the hills for a Leicester trip down the yellow brick road complete with live dog and a team of 75 Munchkins. Dorothy is the perfect antidote to Maria, and I am sure that Helena will fit those ruby slippers perfectly.”

Blackman’s Leicester engagement will follow her title performance in the one-off staging of Gypsy at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 29 October 2006 as part of this year’s Cardiff International Festival of Musical Theatre (See News, 22 Sep 2006). Twenty-three-year-old Blackman, who trained at the Guildford School of Acting, made it into the final two of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? but lost out to Connie Fisher in last month’s live final (See News, 17 Sep 2006). In The Wizard of Oz, she’ll be joined by Ceri Dupree as the Wicked Witch of the West.

Meanwhile, another How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? top ten finalist, ‘baby Maria’ Leanne Dobinson, will take the title role in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs this Christmas at the Theatre Royal Windsor. The family pantomime, which runs from 6 December 2006 to 7 January 2007, will also feature veteran West End diva Marti Webb as the Wicked Queen, along with Bernie Clifton, Christopher Beeny, Michael Sharvell-Martin and Muffin the Mule

- by Terri Paddock