Cast Changes In Billy Elliot & Once This Week, Plus More #Westendweek
| By Andrew Tomlins
Theatreland becomes cast change central this week, with cast members joining Once and Billy Elliot and leaving Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Last night (Monday 12th May 2014) saw Ruthie Henshall return to the West End, stepping into the shoes of dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot. It was a very special evening for Billy Elliot as the production also celebrated its ninth birthday at the Victoria Palace Theatre.
A West End and Broadway legend, just a few of Ruthie’s theatre credits include playing Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart in Chicago, Marion Halcome in The Woman in White, the title roles in Peggy Sue Got Married and Marguerite, Fantine in Les Misérables, Nancy in Oliver and Ellen in Miss Saigon. She won an Olivier Award for her performance as Amalia in She Loves Me.
Chris Grahamson also joined the cast as Billy’s brother Tony and Barnaby Meredith returned to the production as Older Billy. Eleven year old Matteo Zecca (Billy) and ten year old Kyria Cooper (Debbie) complete the cast, alongside new ensemble members. Ruthie has been the talk of theatreland recently, even those who have seen Billy Elliot countless times will be making every effort to see the star in action.
The West End production of Once at the Phoenix Theatre also welcomed new cast members last night. David Hunter took over as Guy from Arthur Darvill. The performer, who many will remember for reaching the live finals of ITV’s Superstar, previously understudied the role. He appeared in the original cast of One Man Two Guvnors (National Theatre/UK Tour/Adelphi Theatre) and recently filmed Nativity 3 which is due to be released later this year.
Jill Winternitz joined the cast to star opposite David as Girl. Last year Jill made her West End debut as Baby in Dirty Dancing (Piccadilly) after starring in the musical’s UK Tour. Once is a terrific show as the cast are able to put their own stamp on their roles. I will certainly be making another trip to the Phoenix soon to catch the new cast in action!
This week is your last chance to catch Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Douglas, who received huge critical acclaim and an Olivier nomination for his performance, will be sorely missed. However, I’ve heard great things about Alex Jennings who takes over next week!
The Pajama Game officially opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre tonight (Tuesday 13th May 2014). The production, which has transferred to the West End following an acclaimed run in Chichester, stars Joanna Riding who is reprising her performance as Babe Williams. She stars opposite Michael Xavier who has joined the cast as Sid Sorokin.
During a recent interview with London Theatre Direct, Michael revealed he is thrilled to be joining the musical, “This production was already a hit down in Chichester so you know you're coming to see a show that has been put together beautifully. Plus, it's full of comedy, romance, high-energy dance routines and of course, wonderful songs by Adler & Ross including Hey There, Hernando's Hideaway and Steam Heat.”
Finally, Ushers: The Front of House Musical re-opens tonight as the Charing Cross Theatre’s main show. Daniel Buckley, Ceris Hine, Ross McNeill, Liam Ross-Mills and Carly Thoms return to the stagiest musical in town alongside Robin Pocketts. The production runs until Saturday 7th June 2014.