See incredible replacement casts in West End shows
It’s always exciting to hear the cast announced for a new London production, especially if it’s due to open with big star names. But don’t sleep on the replacement casts!
Often hit productions and long-running shows will bring in fantastic talent for their first (or second, or third) cast change — like rising stars, theatrical stalwarts who have earned their leading role, left-field choices from film or TV, or perhaps someone you’ve never come across before, but who is about to become your new favourite performer.
We have rightly been celebrating understudies and covers recently, since this incredible group has kept shows going through the rocky Covid times, but let’s take time to celebrate replacement casts too. They are making sure that audiences have just as brilliant an experience at our leading West End shows, while managing that tricky balancing act of slotting into an established cast while also bringing their own flair to the role.
We’ve seen lots of great performers coming into shows recently, from Harry Potter icon Tom Felton making his West End debut in 2:22 – A Ghost Story to superstar understudy Joel Harper-Jackson officially taking over from Taron Egerton in Cock. So, here are some of the talented replacement cast members in London shows that you can book for now.
Fra Fee, Amy Lennox and more in Cabaret
It’s not easy following the likes of Hollywood stars Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley, who opened as the Emcee and Sally Bowles respectively in Rebecca Frecknall’s incredible revival of Cabaret. In fact, Redmayne and Buckley both picked up Olivier Awards for their performances — as did supporting cast members Elliot Levey as Herr Schultz and Liza Sadovy as Fraulein Schneider, as part of the show’s seven-award sweep.
Yet Cabaret is just as electrifying with its new leads. Fra Fee, whose impressive credits include both the West End and film versions of Les Misérables, gives a completely different, and very effective, interpretation of the Emcee, while Amy Lennox, who played Lauren in the original West End cast of Kinky Boots, supplies superb vocals and is arguably closer to Kander and Ebb’s characterisation of Sally. They’re joined by Omar Baroud as Cliff and Vivien Parry as Fraulein Schneider, both contributing to an exciting new version of this acclaimed production.
Keala Settle in & Juliet
There’s no show in London more life-affirming than this glittery musical romp, which mashes up Shakespeare and pop songs by the hit-maker Max Martin (think Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, the Backstreet boys and many more). Instead of dying with Romeo, Juliet goes off on her own adventure, while Anne Hathaway spars with husband Shakespeare over the plot changes.
What could make this lovingly inclusive production even better? How about the introduction to the cast of the amazing Keala Settle, who became a household name thanks to her passionate performance of “This Is Me” in movie-musical The Greatest Showman.
But she’s got serious chops as a stage actress, too – her Broadway credits include Les Misérables and Waitress – as she demonstrates in & Juliet. You haven’t got long to catch her in the show: Settle’s next stop is the West End revival of Sister Act, starring alongside Beverley Knight and Jennifer Saunders.
Lucie Jones in Wicked
The green-skinned Elphaba is a dream role for all aspiring musical theatre leading ladies. Originated by the one and only Idina Menzel, we’ve since seen plenty of incredible names donning that witch’s hat over the years – from Eden Espinosa and Louise Dearman to Kerry Ellis and Rachel Tucker. Now it’s the turn of Welsh wonder Lucie Jones, who is currently defying gravity in the West End production.
Jones has previously played Cosette and Fantine in Les Misérables in London, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at Leicester Curve, Maureen in the UK tour of Rent, and Jenna in Waitress in the West End, and it’s a thrill for fans to see her take to the sky as Elphaba.
She now stars alongside Helen Woolf as Glinda, plus fellow new cast members Ryan Reid as Fiyero, Sophie-Louise Dann as Madame Morrible, and Gary Wilmot as The Wizard. It’s good to see them, isn’t it?
Mazz Murray in Mamma Mia!
Whether it’s your first or your 100th trip to the ABBA-tastic musical, you know you’re in for a treat. Unleash your inner dancing queen and join mum Donna and daughter Sophie as the latter tries to figure out who her father is before her wedding day – and the former confronts her complicated past. Set on a sunny Greek island, Mamma Mia! is escapism at its best, while also offering some touching moments of family bonding and female friendship.
The current West End Donna is Mazz Murray, who devoted Mamma Mia! fans will know has previously wowed as Donna’s glamorous pal Tanya. Although they’re very different roles, Murray is a revelation as Donna, and it looks like she’s having a ball with her Dynamos: Josie Benson (In the Heights) as Tanya, and Gemma Goggin (Son of Rambow – The Musical) as Rosie. So, gimme gimme gimme a trip to this ABBA fantasy land!
Michael Duke in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical
Bob Marley wasn’t just an incredible musician, but a global icon thanks to his activist work and philosophical ideas around peace and love. Inhabiting the great man for the opening of this new biographical West End musical was Arinzé Kene, who led the brilliant company and brought soul to indelible reggae hits like “I Shot the Sheriff”, “One Love”, “Redemption Song”, and the inspiring title number.
That makes it two tough acts to follow – Bob Marley and Kene – but Michael Duke is more than up to the challenge. The versatile performer’s past work ranges from The Inheritance, Thriller Live and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in the West End to West Side Story at Manchester Royal Exchange and Carmen at Opera Holland Park. Accompanied by amazing castmates like Gabrielle Brooks, Daniel Bailey and Shanay Holmes, you can catch Duke’s Bob Marley now in this incredible tribute to the Jamaican legend.
Kerry Ellis in Anything Goes
All aboard! One of the theatrical highlights of 2021 was this utterly joyful revival of Cole Porter’s lush ocean liner musical, which reunited two creative powerhouses. Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, who has won both a Tony and an Olivier for her work on the show, and star Sutton Foster first collaborated on Anything Goes on Broadway back in 2011. Their reprisal of those roles was a total triumph.
So, who could possibly take Foster’s place in the key role of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, as Anything Goes comes tap-dancing back into the Barbican following a UK tour? Why, it’s none other than West End legend Kerry Ellis. Her numerous iconic roles include Meat in We Will Rock You, Fantine in Les Misérables, Nancy in Oliver!, Grizabella in Cats, and Elphaba in Wicked. She’s joined in the 2022 production by fabulous new castmates Bonnie Langford, Denis Lawson and Simon Callow. They’re the top!
Photo credit: Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical, Wicked and & Juliet (Photos courtesy of productions)
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