EastEnders soap star Jessie Wallace (pictured) will make her West End debut in Rent Remixed at the Duke of York’s theatre on 24 December 2007, when she takes over from Denise Van Outen, who has just been nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award for her performance as lesbian performance artist Maureen in the musical (See News, 7 Dec 2007).

Wallace is best known to TV fans as EastEnders’ Kat Slater, a role she played for five years and for which she won two National Television Awards: Most Popular Newcomer in 2001 and Most Popular Actress in 2003. Since leaving the soap opera in 2005, she’s been seen on television in A Class Apart, The Dinner Party and Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall, and has just finished filming the third series of Wild at Heart.

Kylie Minogue creative director William Baker has given Jonathan Larson’s 1996 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical a 21st-century makeover. Inspired by Puccini's La bohème, Rent transposes the plot to early 1990s New York where a community of East End squatters battle to fulfil their aspirations against the reality of rent demands and AIDS.

The death of the 35-year-old American creator and composer from an aortic aneurysm shortly after the final dress rehearsal of Rent's debut transformed the musical into a cause celebre in New York, where it’s still running. Rent received its West End premiere at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 12 May 1998 and closed on 30 October 1999 after a run of 18 months. It has since toured the UK extensively and had two limited West End return seasons.

Baker's version has been pruned down to a running time of just over two hours, with some Americanisms excised and references to HIV therapies updated. The production, which opened at the Duke of York’s on 16 October 2007 (previews from 2 Octoer), is designed by Mark Bailey, with musical supervision by fellow Kylie collaborator Steve Anderson.

The other current principals remain: Siobhan Donaghy (as Mimi), Luke Evans (Roger), Oliver Thornton (Mark), Leon Lopez (Collins), Jay Webb (Angel), Francesca Jackson (Joanne) and Craig Stein (Benny). The production is presented by the Ambassador Theatre Group, Tulchin/Bartner Productions and Michael Brenner.


In other West End musical casting news, three Chicago veterans – Bonnie Langford, former Blue boybander Duncan James and X Factor finalist Brenda Edwards – have returned to the Kander and Ebb musical at the Cambridge Theatre this week. They are now back playing, respectively, Roxie Hart, Billy Flynn and Mama Morton. The current cast also features Amra Faye-Wright (as Velma Kelly) and Paul Rider (Amos Hart).

Last week, this revival of Chicago celebrated its tenth birthday in the West End with a star-studded gala performance featuring Langford, James, Edwards and many other celebrity cast members from the past decade (See WOS TV, 6 Dec 2007). The production opened at the Cambridge Theatre (where the musical’s original London production ran for 603 performances from April 1979) on 28 April 2006, after eight-and-a-half years at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand. Amongst its accolades are the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production and the Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical.

Kander and Ebb’s 1975 musical is based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and has a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The current stage revival, which transferred from Broadway, is directed by Walter Bobbie – who also attended last night - and designed by John Lee Beatty, with choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse.

- by Terri Paddock