Eighteen-year-old newcomer Emma Williams will play Truly Scrumptious opposite West End star Michael Ball's Caractacus Potts in the world premiere production of stage musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which opens at the West End's London Palladium on 16 April 2002 (previews from 19 March).

Making her West End debut, Williams joins a star cast, which also features Anton Rodgers (as Grandpa Potts), Brian Blessed (Baron Bomburst), Nichola McAuliffe (Baroness Bomburst) and Richard O'Brien (the Child Catcher). Williams completed her training at the Yorkshire School of Performing Arts earlier this year. Her previous theatre credits include Edinburgh Festival outings of Oliver!, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on the 1968 film, follows the adventures of madcap inventor Caractacus Potts. 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.

The production marks Ball's first appearance in a West End musical since the 1996 production of Stephen Sondheim's Passion. 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.

At a press reception held today at the London Palladium - at which Ball and Williams posed for photos in the original car from the film - Ball expressed his delight with his new role, saying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was his favourite as a child. He also heaped praise on his co-stars, particularly Child Catcher O'Brien, best known as the creator and star of The Rocky Horror Show. "It's inspired casting," said Ball, "that man's genuinely scary."

Ball also revealed details of some of the spectacular effects for the stage production. The famous Chitty car will fly - and that won't be the only thing in the air. Ball will make his first entrance in a parachute, while the Child Catcher will be strung up in a net and carried out over the heads of the audience at the end. Other additions for the stage show include new songs created by brothers Richard M and Robert B Sherman, one of which is titled "Teamwork". Meanwhile, there are plans to release some of the classic standards as singles, starting with "Hushabye Mountain", sung by Ball.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is adapted by Jeremy Sams with original music by the Sherman brothers, directed by RSC artistic director Adrian Noble and designed by Anthony Ward, with lighting by Mark Henderson, sound by Andrew Bruce, orchestrations and dance arrangements by Chris Walker, and musical direction and supervision by Robert Scott. 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