New casting details have been announced for three London plays as well as a one-off Stephen Sondheim gala performance.

Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch - who was nominated for the 2003 Best Actress in a Musical Olivier for her one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty at the Old Vic - will join West End stars Maria Friedman (who plays Sally), Philip Quast (Ben), Michael Praed (Buddy) and Liz Robertson (Phyllis) leading the cast of the concert production of Sondheim’s Follies at the London Palladium on Sunday 4 February 2007 (See News, 31 Oct 2006).

The concert is held in aid of Starlight Children's Foundation and Kingston Hospital Cancer Unit Appeal. It’s presented by Richard Douglas Productions and directed and choreographed by Bill Deamer, with musical direction by Richard Balcombe. Ticket prices range from £25 to £150, with the top-price tickets including access to the after-show party.

Stritch, who is now entering her ninth decade, was cast as the understudy to Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam in 1950. By 1970, when she appeared in the original production of Sondheim's Company, she had secured her place in Broadway history with a raspy account of The Ladies Who Lunch. As Carlotta in Follies, she will deliver the song “I’m Still Here”, which also featured in Elaine Stritch at Liberty, the show which won the Tony, Drama Desk, Obie, Outer Circle Critics and New York Drama Critics Awards.

The stellar cast also includes Josephine Barstow, Bonaventura Bottone, Adam-Jon Fiorentino, Neil McDermott, Trevor McDonald, Liliane Montevecchi, Charlotte Page, Angela Rippon, Imelda Staunton and Summer Strallen.

Follies has music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by James Goldman. Set in a crumbling old Broadway theatre scheduled for demolition, two couples, Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer and Ben and Phyllis Rogers Stone, look back over their relationships during a reunion.

Follies premiered on 4 April 1971 at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway, starring Alexis Smith, John McMartin, Dorothy Collins, Gene Nelson, and Yvonne De Carlo. It opened in London at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre on 21 July 1987, where it ran to 4 February 1988. The cast included Diana Rigg, Daniel Massey, Julia McKenzie, Lynda Baron, Leonard Sachs, Maria Charles, Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson.


Meanwhile, Rachel Pickup will replace Catherine McCormack in the cast of comic thriller The 39 Steps at the West End’s Criterion Theatre at the end of McCormack’s contract, on 15 January 2007. Charles Edwards, Rupert Degas and Simon Gregor - original cast members in Patrick Barlow’s comic stage adaptation of John Buchan’s whodunit – will remain in the cast of Maria Aitken’s production.

Following a sell-out summer season at north London’s Tricycle Theatre, The 39 Steps – which premiered last June at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse – transferred to the West End, opening on 20 September 2006 (previews from 14 September). It’s currently booking until 16 April 2007.

The 39 Steps - in which Richard Hannay must break a spy ring and prove his innocent - was memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. In the stage version, four actors play “150 roles” between them and recreate all of the story’s thrills and spills, including the chase on the Flying Scotsman and the escape on the Forth Bridge.

The production is presented in the West End by Edward Snape Ltd for Fiery Angel Ltd and Tricycle London Productions Ltd in association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It has been nominated for two Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards – for Best New Comedy and Best Ensemble Performance (click here to vote now!)


Joining Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths in Thea Sharrock’s revival of Equus are Jenny Agutter (who played the role of Jill in the 1977 film version of the play) as a magistrate, and recent Mountview graduate Joanna Christie, who now plays Jill. The first West End production in over 30 years of Peter Shaffer’s controversial modern classic will open on 27 February 2007 (previews from 16 February) at the Gielgud Theatre, where its limited season is booking until 9 June 2007 (See News, 1 Nov 2006).

Equus - which tells the story of a troubled 17-year-old stable boy who blinds his horses - was originally produced by the National Theatre at the Old Vic in 1973, directed by John Dexter, and starring Alec McCowen as psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Griffiths in the Sharrock’s revival) and Peter Firth as Alan Strang (Radcliffe), the patient. The play transferred to Broadway with Anthony Hopkins and Firth, running for 1,200 performances and winning the Tony Award for Best Play in 1975. Two years later, it was made into a film starring Richard Burton.

Shaffer - whose other plays include The Royal Hunt of the Sun, revived earlier this year at the National - was inspired to write Equus when he heard of a crime involving a teenage boy's apparently senseless injury to horses. Sharrock’s production will be designed by the play’s original designer John Napier, with lighting by David Hersey, sound by Gregory Clarke and movement by Scarlett Mackmin. It’s produced by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers.


And finally, at the Almeida Theatre, Helen McCrory, who most recently appeared on stage alongside Sienna Miller in As You Like It at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre last year, will star opposite Paul Hilton in the cast of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm directed by Anthony Page in October 2007 (exact dates to be confirmed).

The 1886 drama follows former clergyman Johannes Rosmer pledge his support to a new reformatory government, much to the anger of his brother-in-law Professor Kroll, who tries to sabotage Rosmer's revolutionary ways, leading to a tragic conclusion.

McCrory’s previous roles at the Almeida include Five Gold Rings, Platonov and Triumph of Love. Her other credits include Uncle Vanya, Twelfth Night and How I Learned to Drive (all at the Donmar Warehouse) on stage and The Count of Monte Cristo, Casanova and The Queen on screen.

Hilton was most recently on stage in TV talent search The Play’s The Thing winner Kate Betts’ drama On the Third Day in the West End (See News, 19 Jun 2006). His other credits include the National Theatre productions of Three Sisters and Mourning Becomes Electra, for which he was Olivier-nominated.

- by Caroline Ansdell