Fresh from her award-winning success as Velma von Tussle in Hairspray, for which she won best supporting performance in a musical prizes at both the Whatsonstage.com and Laurence Olivier Awards this year, Tracie Bennett (pictured) will join Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson in the West End transfer of La Cage Aux Folles, which has a limited season at the Playhouse Theatre from 30 October 2008 (previews from 20 October) to 10 January 2009.

Bennett plays Jacqueline with other new cast members including Paula Wilcox as Mme Renaud / Mme Dindon. The rest of the company, several returning from the original run at Southwark’s Menier Chocolate Factory last Christmas, are: Jason Pennycooke, Iain Mitchell, Alicia Davies, Stuart Neal, Robert Maskell, Leanne Harwood, Nolan Frederick, Zoe Ann Bown, Ben Bunce, Darren Carnall, Nicholas Cuningham, Ben Deery, Adrian Der Gregorian, Matt Krzan, Gary Murphy, Dane Quixall, Duncan Smith and Scott Speadbury.

The production is being reconceived by director Terry Johnson for the Playhouse, with cabaret-style seating available at the front of the stalls for audience members over 18 years of age. It’s choreographed by Lynne Page and designed by Tim Shortall, with costumes by Matthew Wright, wigs and make-up by Richard Mawbey, musical supervision and orchestrations by Jason Carr and musical direction by Nigel Lilley.

Based on the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret and subsequent 1978 French-Italian screen version, the musical focuses on a gay couple – Georges, the manager of a St Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, his star attraction - and the adventures that ensue when Georges\' son Jean-Michel brings home his fiancée\'s ultra-conservative parents to meet them. Further West End casting has not yet been confirmed.

La Cage Aux Folles has a book by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy) and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, whose other classics include Hello Dolly!, Mame and Mack and Mabel. The score features songs including “I Am What I Am”, “The Best of Times”, “Song on the Sand”, “Masculinity” and the title number.


In other West End musical casting news, screen-to-stager Dirty Dancing has welcomed a new cast at the Aldwych Theatre this week, led by former Royal Ballet dancer Martin Harvey as Johnny Castle and Leanne Rowe making her stage debut as Baby Houseman. Nadia Coote continues in the role of Penny, which she originated on stage in both Australia and London.

Other new cast members are David Firth (as Max Kellerman), Robin Chalk (Neil Kellerman) and Josie Kidd (Mrs Schumacher). The ensemble is completed by Jacquie Biggs, Wayne Anthony Cole, Cassandra Compton, Neisha-yen Jones, Toussaint Meghie, Sandy Moffat, Callum Powell (who joins his sister Stephanie Powell), Cleopatra Royer, Kelly Smith, Zizi Strallen, Elia Lo Tauro, Hannah Vassallo and Alan Vincent ( both previously with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures in Motion Pictures), Maria Ward, Ed White and Karen Williams.

Set at an upmarket American holiday camp called Kellerman’s in the 1960s, the 1987 film of Dirty Dancing starred Jennifer Grey as the teenaged Baby Houseman who falls in love with the camp\'s working class dance instructor Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze, whose climactic line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”, has since become a classic.

Dirty Dancing has been adapted for the stage by the film’s screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, who based the story’s setting on her own childhood experiences of family holidays in America’s Catskill Mountains. The musical had its world premiere in Sydney in 2004. It had its UK premiere on 24 October 2006 (previews from 29 September) at the Aldwych, where it’s currently booking until 17 October 2009.

- by Terri Paddock