Michael Ball has been confirmed to star in next year's world premiere production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which opens at the West End's London Palladium on 16 April 2002 (previews from 19 March). The stage musical, based on the 1968 film, marks Ball's first appearance in a West End musical since the 1996 production of Stephen Sondheim's Passion.

In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Ball will play madcap inventor Caractacus Potts, the part played by Dick Van Dyke in the film version. Caractacus, a widower who delights in eccentric gadgets, sets about restoring an old car from a scrap heap with the help of his two children, and a lady friend named Truly Scrumptious. However, when the car develops magical properties, it attracts the evil attention of Baron Bomburst.

Michael Ball made his West End debut in 1985, originating the role of Marius in Les Miserables. He went on to star in The Phantom of the Opera, Passion and Aspects of Love. It was the last that had perhaps the most dramatic impact on his career, transferring to Broadway and also producing the #1 hit song "Love Changes Everything", which has become one of Ball's signature tunes. For the past several years, Ball has turned his attention primarily to his singing career, releasing solo albums and mounting several sell-out concert tours, including a five-date UK tour this December.

Other cast members now lined up for the much-anticipated Chitty musical are Rocky Horror's Richard O'Brien as the Childcatcher, Anton Rodgers as Grandpa Potts, and Nichola McAuliffe and Brian Blessed as the kiddie-hating Bombursts.

Casting continues for the rest of the company - estimated to be over 40-strong, including 20 children - and speculation about other appointments, particularly that of Truly Scrumptious, remains feverish. Denise Van Outen, Ruthie Henshall, Julie Alanah-Brighten, Anita-Louise Combe and Janie Dee have all been mentioned in conjunction with the part, though the last is unlikely to be available with a planned West End transfer of her Chichester hit , My One and Only, coming up.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is adapted by Jeremy Sams and directed by RSC artistic director Adrian Noble, with original music by the Sherman brothers, who will be adding to their movie score for the stage production. The book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was written by Ian Fleming and originally published in hardback in three parts.

The story was turned into a hugely popular movie in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. The Sherman brothers, Richard M and Robert B, were Oscar-nominated for the title song. The producer was Albert R Broccoli and the director was Ken Hughes. Children's writer Roald Dahl adapted James Bond-creator Fleming's text for the screenplay.

- by Terri Paddock