Thriller Live has been doing fantastic business, boosted recently by the death of the man to whom they're paying tribute - but does that mean there Ain't Nobody who can attract even more theatregoers? Rumours have been abounding that the latest publicity stunt stemming from the Lyric will be a genius piece of guest casting - Chaka Khan doing a one-week stint on stage, singing some of the classics originally performed by Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five. It's the kind of whisper that sounds fabulously plausible - she's covered Jacko tracks before (on her eponymous 1982 album), she's recently appeared on Broadway as Sofia in The Color Purple, and apparently she's now living in London. It all adds up - but is there any truth in this particular piece of gossip? "Absolutely no truth whatsoever," says their PR company. A shame, but this show is doing so well I wouldn't put it past them to be able to attract any guest stars they fancied.
The road from ITV talent shows to the musical theatre stage is a well-travelled one - Niki Evans, Ray Quinn, and now apparently Stephen Mulhern. The host of Britain's Got More Talent reckons he will be treading the boards around the country this year as he assumes the mantle of Joseph, and, of course, that famous Technicolour Dreamcoat. He's gaily tweeted about rehearsals and the singing lessons he's undergoing. A sceptical public are needling him about it, forcing him to retort: "Why does nobody believe I am playing Joseph? Why else would I be breaking my back to get fit! I have to wear a loin cloth!" Perhaps the reason that people aren't convinced of his veracity is that Bill Kenwright Productions haven't actually announced any cast change for the UK tour. Their press representative told me: "We have not had any confirmation about new cast [for the autumn] and only know that Craig [Chalmers, the current Joseph] is in the shoW. Maybe you know more about it than I do!" I'm told by a source close to the company that Mulhern is actually going to cover Chalmers's three-week holiday, but I've not yet been told dates.
Talking of tours, the smash-hit Hairspray will be touring the UK in 2010. Theatre fans have been fretting that the pressures of having to sell tickets for two productions may mean the show will close at the Shaftesbury, particularly as there's been no announcement about who will replace Brian Conley after he finishes his run as Edna Turnblad in October - but I'm happy to report that it seems their fears are unfounded. "The West End show is staying open," confirms the show's spokesman.
It truly was a case of Nuns On The Run at the London Palladium last week, as the revolving stage for Sister Act broke down mid-performance - during a chase scene that depends entirely on the moving mechanism to convey the panic and chaos. So the nuns and gangsters had to resort to good old-fashioned Keystone Cops-style acting, waving hands in the air, over-exaggerated knee lifts to demonstrate the act of running, and gurning. The Sister Act stage doesn't seem to be the sturdiest of constructions - Claire Greenway, playing chubby nun Sister Mary Patrick, almost had a nasty accident the other week when the trap door didn't close properly due to another faulty mechanism - and if she'd taken a step backwards not even the fat-suit she wears for the part would have fully cushioned her fall. The cast and crew are taking the glitches all in good heart, though; "In such a technical show, there are so many potential problems it's a wonder it doesn't happen more often," a source close to the company told me. "More often than not, a technical malfunction gives everyone involved a good giggle, and a little frisson to spice up the night's show." What good sports they are in theatre; I'm not sure I'd be so generous.
And after all that delay waiting for the right "celebrity" big names to sell the tickets, The Rocky Horror Show has finally cast its Brad and Janet - Mark Evans (last seen in Jet Set Go! after missing out on the chance to represent the UK at Eurovision) and Clare Buckfield (of 90s sitcom 2point4 Children and Dancing on Ice runner-up). Hear'Say's Suzanne Shaw, who played Janet for a spell in the last tour, is set to do a stint as well - I'm guessing that this will be because Buckfield may already be committed to the autumn production of Little Shop Of Horrors, though casting for that hasn't been announced yet either. I'm not convinced that Evans and Buckfield, consummate pros though they may be, are going to put that many extra bums on seats - particularly as the images of the 2007 cast are still being displayed outside venues and in all the publicity materials. After this insane delay, let's hope for the producers' sake that it's been a gamble worth taking.