Producers today confirmed that former Boyzone star Stephen Gately (pictured) has permanently withdrawn from the new UK touring production of Stephen Schwartz’s Seventies rock opera Godspell, after just two dates (See News, 12 Jun 2007).

The tour opened last month in Peterborough and continues to Manchester’s Palace Theatre, where Gately’s final performance was on the evening of Saturday 29 September, having missed that day’s matinee. Gately’s understudy Tom Bradley, who was a Danny Zuko finalist in this year’s reality TV contest Grease Is the Word, has taken over in the role of Jesus.

According to producers: “Due to contractual reasons, Stephen Gately has unfortunately had to withdraw from the cast of Godspell. We are delighted that Tom Bradley is replacing Stephen. Tom played the matinee performance at Manchester's Palace Theatre on Saturday 29 September to a fantastic reaction and a standing ovation.”

A separate statement issued by Gately via his agent Carole de Wolfe further explained: “I can confirm that I have had to leave the tour of Godspell due to contractual problems and would like to make it clear that I was not asked to leave nor was my employment terminated. Sadly, this situation has arisen even though I fulfilled all my contractual obligations. I am very disappointed as we had a great show with a great cast, and I hate having to let so many people down who were coming to see the show.”

Responding to messages from fans on his personal website, Gately went on to say: “I am sorry about the Godspell news and I know how disappointing this news has been to you and the inconvenience this had caused … I'm as upset as you all are as I did want to do the tour … At this stage, I'm hope (sic) you will understand I can't say anything more than that. Thank you all for your concern, but I am well and I really do appreciate your continued support for everything I do and hope you will still come along to see me at anything I do in the future. I am now looking at other opportunities and hopefully I'll be able to do something else in the not too distant future.”

A modern-day song-and-dance recreation of the Gospel According to St Matthew, Godspell begins with John the Baptist gathering up followers and concludes with Jesus' crucifixion in a junkyard. Conceived by then-college student John-Michael Tebelak, the show has music and lyric by Stephen Schwartz, whose subsequent hits include Pippin and, most recently Wicked. Amongst the score’s songs as "Day by Day", "All Good Gifts" and "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord".

Godspell first opened Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in May 1971, before clocking up over 2,000 performances on Broadway. Later that year, it opened in the West End in a production that starred David Essex. The musical was adapted for the 1973 film, starring Victor Garber.

The new production is directed by Leicester Haymarket artistic director Paul Kerryson and designed by Kate Unwin. After a planned week off this week, the tour recommences, with Bradley as Jesus, on Monday (8 October) in Llandudno and then visits Darlington, Sunderland, Swansea, Glasgow and Birmingham, where its schedule concludes on 1 December 2007.

- by Terri Paddock