After helping the likes of Connie Fisher, Lee Mead and Jodie Prenger make their West End dreams come true, flamboyant TV host Graham Norton (pictured) will take to the stage himself to make his own West End debut – playing a drag queen (See The Goss, 24 Sep 2008).

In the new year, Norton will tackle the role of Zaza in the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of Jerry Herman’s 1983 Broadway musical comedy La Cage Aux Folles, taking over at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre from original star Douglas Hodge on 19 January 2009.

Norton continues in the role, performing eights shows a week until 25 April 2009, though, due to filming commitments, he will miss selected performances (24, 31 January; 4, 11, 18 and 25 March; 1, 8, 15 and 22 April).

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/Zaza, his star attraction - and the adventures that ensue when Georges\' son Jean-Michel brings home his fiancée\'s ultra-conservative parents to meet them. At the same time as Norton’s debut, Steven Pacey (Olivier nominated for By Jeeves and most recently seen in Moonlight and Magnolias) will take over from Denis Lawson as Georges.

A regular theatregoer himself, Graham Norton has become a key Theatreland figure over the past three years as the host of BBC One’s musical casting competitions: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do and this year’s I’d Do Anything, which found Jodie Prenger to star as Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh’s upcoming revival of Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Norton trained at Central School of Speech and Drama and began his career as an actor and comedian.

Ahead of his West End debut, Norton will be celebrating the past year in theatre as one of our team of guest presenters at the Launch Party for the 2009 Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, which takes place next Friday 5 December 2008 at the London Hippodrome (See News, 30 Oct 2008).

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.

The revival is directed by Terry Johnson, designed by Tim Shortall and choreographed by Lynne Page, 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. The current cast also features Tracie Bennett, Paula Wilcox, Jason Pennycooke, Iain Mitchell, Alicia Davies and Stuart Neal, who will continue in their roles.

The production was first seen last Christmas at the 150-seat Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, where it ran from 9 January to 8 March 2008 (previews from 27 November 2007). It opened at the Playhouse on 30 October 2008 (previews from 20 October).

- by Terri Paddock