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UK Roundup - Billy Elliot, Mary Poppins, Nathan Lane

Whilst Julie Walters prepares to perform in Acorn Antiques another actress is gearing up to play the role that Walters made famous on screen. Playing dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot saw the actress nominated for an Oscar and winning a Bafta. In Stephen Daldry's stage version of the film, the role will be taken by Haydn Gwynne, a regular television actress who has worked on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. As Billy's Grandma, veteran star Anne Rogers who was the original Polly in The Boyfriend returns to the stage after the two week run of Over My Shoulder in the West End last year. Completing the principal cast are Joe Caffrey (Tony), Steve Elias (Mr Braithwaite), Trevor Fox (George) with Tim Healy and Stephanie Putson as the parents.

This week saw the televised recording of the Royal Variety Performance with Prince Charles in attendance at the London Coliseum. Celebrating the centenary of the venue, acts appearing in the show included segments from The Producers and The Pirates of Penzance as well as a performance from Liza Minnelli making a TV comeback after her divorce from David Gest. There was also a special performance from the three Billy Elliot boys with Sir Elton John, who has penned songs for the show. The three youngsters performed the song 'Electricity' with some impressive choreography from Peter Darling. Opening next year at the Victoria Palace Theatre, it will play almost two months of previews to allow the three boys the chance to settle into their roles.

Also with many stars in attendance, but in the audience rather than on stage, was the premiere of Mary Poppins. Richard Attenborough, Eva Rice (daughter of Sir Tim), popstar Natasha Bedingfield, television personalities Graham Norton, Ruby Wax and Gloria Hunniford, soap actresses Tamzin Outhwaite and Barbara Windsor, the great actors Jonathan Pryce, Michael Gambon and Jim Broadbent, racing driver Damon Hill, popstar Sting with Trudi Styler and kids, and, of course, not forgetting the creative team themselves - including director Richard Eyre and co-producer Cameron Mackintosh and the cast with Laura Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee leading the photos. Check the Getty Images website for pictures. Reviews for the show, apart from one three star review, were positively glowing. Check BroadwayWorld for our review next week.

After the news two weeks ago about Acorn Antiques charging 65 - around $124 - for tickets, The Stage industry newspaper reports that several agencies are refusing to sell for it for fear of unsold tickets. Group Line, the biggest supplier to bulk purchasers, didn't want to sell the tickets as 'people have said 'you must be joking' and walked away from it'. Other major agencies have boycotted against producer Phil McIntyre's prices, as with booking fees included it comes to an even higher price. Despite this, advance sales are looking good for the show, mainly due to the attraction of its star cast including Victoria Wood, Julia Walters and Celia Imrie.

In other news, Nathan Lane missed a performance of The Producers this week due to back spasms. He was in costume ready to go when it occurred, but understudy Corey English quickly stepped in. Also at The Producers the whereabouts of Carmen Ghia actor James Dreyfus is at the moment - unknown. As well as missing many performances he was also absent from the Royal Variety Performance. Also, Aladdin with Ian McKellen cancelled its first preview citing technical difficulties. A statement from the Old Vic Theatre said it was a demanding show with complicated staging.

Finally seasons greetings! This is my last UK roundup of the year, though I'll be looking back on the year's memories in an extended 2004 roundup, as well as reviewing Mary Poppins next week.

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