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UK Roundup – Jennifer Ellison, Woman in White, Lauren Ambrose

We're forever hearing that Chicago is suffering empty houses (as little as two hundred), even with the latest casting of David Hasselhof. Unsurprising then that a new lease of life is to be pumped in with the arrival of Jennifer Ellison as Roxie Hart. Ellison, who recently won top British celebrity show Hell's Kitchen, is shortly to be seen as Meg in the film of The Phantom of the Opera. Though she is a newcomer to the West End, she is a trained classical dancer and recently released a pop single. Joining her as Billy Flynn is JohnBarrowman straight from his run in Anything Goes, which finished last weekend. The show is booking until June 2005, possibly quashing rumours of its closure in November.


Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical The Woman in White has begun previews at the Palace Theatre, previously home to long-runner Les Miserables, which moved to accommodate the show. Starring in the lead role is Maria Friedman, winner of this year's Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical (for her performance as Mother in Ragtime) and the casting also sees the return of Michael Crawford post-Dance of the Vampires. Completing part of the large cast and creative credits is David Zippel on lyrics, Charlotte Jones on book, Trevor Nunn directing and a much-talked about set design by William Dudley.


Also opening this week for previews is Dumb Show at the RoyalCourtTheatre, with a cast including Rupert Graves and His Dark Materials' Anna Maxwell Martin. The play is the first from Joe Penhall since his award winning Blue/Orange, which opened at The National Theatre in 2000, subsequently winning the Olivier for Best New Play (it will have its regional premiere early next year in Sheffield, directed by Kathy Burke). Dumb Show is focussed around the ever-current trend of reality TV shows. Also beginning previews this week is David Hare's new play Stuff Happens, with a character list including George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair. It plays in rep at the National.


Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose is to star in the aptly titled Buried Child at The National Theatre. The play is about a young man's strange homecoming to a house of half-crazed relatives. Joining Ambrose, who plays Claire in the American drama, is Elizabeth Franz - winner of the 1999 Best Actress Tony Award (for Death of a Salesman) - and M Emmet Walsh, both of whom are soon to be seen in Christmas with the Kranks. Directing them at The National Theatre's Lyttleton is Matthew Warchus, director of new stage musical Lord of the Rings and Olivier Award winner Our House. It runs from September 18th.


A bizarre casting coup has been found in that of TV presenter John Leslie. Americans are unlikely to be familiar with his case, he's a television presenter who allegedly raped fellow TV presenter Ulrika Johnson but was eventually cleared of such claims. Nevertheless, scandals emerged of other rape allegations from women and his fall from grace was publicly documented in the press. He's to star in a tour of Pride and Prejudice, even though he's not known to be an actor in any other form than pantomime. His co-star will be veteran actress Rula Lenska. It opens in Guildford on September 16th and tours through to October 23rd, where it plays at the Greenwich Theatre.


Whilst it may not have the attraction of Sutton Foster and co, Little Women is to open in London at the Duchess Theatre in a straight stage adaptation. After a long progression from the Edinburgh Festival in 1999, it then played at various London venues before announcing a West End season. The play, based on Louisa May Alcott's book, is set during the American Civil War and follows the lives of four sisters and their relationships. It will open on Broadway in a musical adaptation in December. It'll be interesting to see if Little Women lasts in the current climate of plays closing within a month, as it has no famous names to attract the masses. However, pessimism aside, it's bound to be a magnet for school outings.

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From This Author Jake Brunger

Jake is currently studying at Bristol University and hopes to eventually pursue a career in the theatre industry as a writer/director. His favourite writers include (read more...)