Former Chicago and Brookside star Claire Sweeney will host the Gala reopening tomorrow (23 November) of West End mecca Dress Circle, the musical theatre shop and's merchandise partner, (See News, 15 Oct 2002).

Sweeney will cut the ribbon on the new store, which has been rebuilt, repainted, restocked during its three-month closure following an act of arson. Celebrations will then continue throughout the day with a running cabaret of West End singers, an open mike spot for aspiring stars and other special events, in addition to the resumption of normal trade.

In the early hours of 13 August 2002, Dress Circle - based in Monmouth Street, Covent Garden in London - was broken into and burgled, with a fire started in the basement area. Although the building itself was saved and the flames did not spread, the downstairs offices were destroyed, stock ruined and the entire shop, which was immediately closed, severely damaged by smoke.

Within ten days, staff (pictured during refurbishment) were rehoused at a temporary home in Enfield and the shop's busy website was once again taking orders from around the world. Meanwhile, builders have been working at Monmouth Street to repair the structural damage and refurbish the premises.

The longest-running show business and musical theatre shop in the world, Dress Circle was founded 25 years ago and, for the last eight years, has been owned by proprietor Murray Allen. For further information, visit the Dress Circle website.

- by Terri Paddock