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Hudd, Wilmot & Cooper Lead Wizard; Luft at Lowry

Sian Brooke (pictured) will step into those famous ruby slippers as Dorothy in this summer’s Southbank Centre revival of The Wizard of Oz, the 1989 stage musical version of L Frank Baum’s original story, which runs from 28 July to 31 August 2008 (previews from 23 July) at the Royal Festival Hall (See News, 26 Mar 2008).

Leading the 50-strong cast, Brooke will star alongside former Royal Ballet principal Adam Cooper as the Tin Man, Gary Wilmot as the Cowardly Lion, Hilton McRae as the Scarecrow, Roy Hudd as the Wizard and Julie Legrand as the Wicked Witch of the West.

The Wizard of Oz will mark Brooke’s musical debut. Her other theatre credits include Dying City, Harvest, In the Club, Absolutely Perhaps and, most recently, the 50th anniversary production of Pinter’s The Birthday Party at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Adam Cooper has already been in the theatre news this week for the premiere of another fairytale musical, Simply Cinderella, the inaugural production this December at the new Leicester Curve, which he’ll direct and choreograph (See News, 4 Jun 2008). As a performer, he made his name outside the ballet world as the lead Swan in Matthew Bourne\'s male Swan Lake and has since racked up musical credits in Singin\' in the Rain, Zorro, Guys and Dolls and, at the Festival Hall five years ago, On Your Toes.

Gary Wilmot’s myriad musical credits include Half a Sixpence, Me and My Girl, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, HMS Pinafore and Copacabana. Best known for his TV career spanning 40 years, Roy Hudd’s regular returns to the stage have included roles in The Solid Gold Cadillac, Oliver!, Run for Your Wife, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Hard Times and the Olivier Award-winning show he wrote, Underneath the Arches.

Hilton McRae’s recent stage credits include Rabbit and Caroline, Or Change. He’s also appeared in West End musicals Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. Julie Legrand was just seen earlier this year in Fiddler on the Roof in the West End.

The Wizard of Oz is directed by Southbank centre artistic director Jude Kelly, who previously helmed a 2002 revival of the musical at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse. The production is designed by Michael Vale, with musical direction by Jonathan Gill, choreography by Nick Winston, lighting by Mike Gunning and visual installation by Huntley Muir.

L Frank Baum himself wrote the first 1903 stage version of his 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story is best known from the 1939 Hollywood film starring a 16-year-old Judy Garland. This musical version, adapted by John Kane from the Warner Bros movie and with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and EY Harburg, was premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican in 1987, with a young Imelda Staunton as Dorothy. This is the first major London production since then.

Later this year, Lorna Luft – the daughter of legendary screen Dorothy Judy Garland and sister of Liza Minnelli – will play the Wicked Witch of the West in another production of The Wizard of Oz, which runs at The Lowry outside Manchester for a Christmas season from 29 November 2008 to 3 January 2009.

In the UK, Luft’s stage credits include Babes in Arms at Chichester Festival last summer, White Christmas and her own concert show, Songs My Mother Taught Me, which had a West End season in 2004. Commenting on her new role, Luft said: “I’m so excited about performing in the show for which my mother is so well known. I can’t wait to play a baddie as it’s so different from anything I’ve done before. I always have such a good time in the UK, and I’m really looking forward to appearing on stage at The Lowry.”

- by Terri Paddock


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