After weeks of speculation and second-guessing about successors, it has been confirmed today that Martine McCutcheon will indeed be leaving the West End production of My Fair Lady. Her final performance is scheduled for Saturday 8 December 2001 after which she'll be replaced - not by Denise Van Outen, Ruthie Henshall, Dannii Minogue or Janie Dee, whose names have all been bandied about in connection with the part of Eliza Doolittle - but rather by Joanna Riding, who has just finished in another Cameron Mackintosh musical, The Witches of Eastwick, which closed on 27 October. Riding's first performance in her new role is on 10 December 2001.

Trevor Nunn's revival of My Fair Lady started life in March 2001 at the National, where the four-month run became as notable for McCutcheon's frequent absences as for its critically acclaimed sell-outs. The pop star fell ill during the last preview at the National and then, following the press night, was off for a full month with a throat and chest infection that required hospitalisation. Once returned, McCutcheon's appearances remained sporadic, with her doctors advising each day whether she was up to the job. By the end of the NT run, McCutcheon had notched up 63 performances compared to her understudy Alexandra Jay's 65 and her understudy's understudy Kerry Ellis' five.

McCutcheon seemed to stabilise once the production transferred, care of Mackintosh, to the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane in July, when, on doctor’s orders, she also officially scaled down to six, rather than the full eight, performances a week. However, in the past month, McCutcheon’s health seems to have deteriorated again which, compounded by a planned week's holiday, has meant theatregoers have seen little of her. McCutcheon was contracted to remain in the production until April 2002 but will now leave five months early.

Olivier Award winner Joanna Riding is a highly respected musical stage actress. In addition to originating her role as Jane in The Witches of Eastwick, Riding's credits include the National musicals Guys and Dolls and Carousel.

My Fair Lady also stars Jonathan Pryce (as Professor Henry Higgins), Dennis Waterman (Alfred Doolittle), Nicholas Le Provost (Colonel Pickering) and Mark Umbers (Freddy Eynsford-Hill).

The award-winning musical, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, is adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. An opinionated linguistics professor, Henry Higgins, sets out to prove that he can turn anyone into a lady. He chooses as his specimen one cockney flower girl, Eliza, and introduces her to high society. The famous score includes "I Could Have Danced All Night", "Wouldn't It Be Loverly", "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face", "Why Can't the English" and "The Rain in Spain."

This revival of My Fair Lady is directed by NT artistic director Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Matthew Bourne of Adventures in Motion Pictures fame. The production is designed by Anthony Ward with lighting by David Hersey and sound by Paul Groothuis. The musical supervisor is David White, musical director Nick Davies and orchestrator William D Brohn, with original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett.

- by Terri Paddock