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Bert's Wizard role

Bert Newton has been confirmed as the new Wizard in the Australian version of the hit musical Wicked, now playing in Melbourne. Newton, of course, played the same character in the touring version of The Wizard of Oz a few years back. The role in Wicked became vacant after the untimely death of Rob Guest. Newton says:

"The Wizard is a complex challenging role. He’s a charismatic, seductive man who says he just wants to make people happy. He may even believe it, but the truth is much darker. I feel privileged to take this role, one Rob Guest memorably created for the Australian production of Wicked. Rob was a close mate, we played opposite each other in The Sound of Music, and we had a lot of fun together. I’m looking forward to joining a terrific cast in the musical of the decade."

Good luck to him. In my experience, he's one of the nicest blokes in the biz.
PS: It's also been announced that Buddy: The Buddy Holly story will play the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane from May 2. Details here.

Panto pandemonium

Its rituals may be something of a mystery to Australian audiences, but the pantomime is alive and well in Britain. Every regional city has at least one panto happening this Christmas, and they all have one thing in common - B and C-list celebs, plus the occasional faded -lister, in starring roles. In Liverpool, it's Cilla Black as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella; in Bath it's former Doctor Who Colin Baker as Fleshcreep, the Giant's henchman, in Jack and the Beanstalk; in Bristol it's Mickey Rooney (yes, the Mickey Rooney) as Baron Hardup in another Cinderella; Christopher Ellison (Frank Burnside from The Bill) is in Alladin at Tunbridge Wells; and in Bromley, Kent, it's Police Academy star Steve Guttenberg in yet another Cinderella. In London, Britt Ekland is at the Shaw Theatre in (you guessed it) Cinderella. If you're a Neighbours fan, past or present, it's your annual chance to catch your favourite Aussie heartthrob on stage, with Alan Fletcher (Dr Karl) in Peter Pan at Aberdeen; Mark Little in Snow White at Worthing; Craig McLachlan in, yet again, Cinderella at Southampton; and Caitlin Stasey in Snow White at Norwich. There's more here.

What's in a name?

The decision to name a Perth theatre complex after the late Dark Knight star Heath Legder may be overturned. It never made sense to me in the first place, as Ledger was primarily known as a film actor not a stage performer. It's a bit like naming a rugby league ground after an AFL player.

Last chance to save the Regent

The fate of Brisbane's Regent theatre could be sealed in just over two weeks. If you want to object to Brisbane City Council before the November 7 deadline, either as an individual or a group, there's now a complete guide at The direct link is here. Make sure your objection addresses the proposal directly, and includes as many facts as possible, plus a viable alternative (e.g. restoring the original auditorium). Even if you don't plan to make a formal objection, please consider writing to or emailing Premier Anna Bligh, deputy premier Paul Lucas, Lord Mayor Campbell Newman and the building's owners. Their contact details are on the STR website under "Links". This could be our last chance to stop the Regent going the way of the Her Majesty's, the Wintergarden, Festival Hall, the Forum, the Paris, the Metro, Cloudland and so many other of Brisbane's heritage venues.

La Boite's new boss

The board's decision was a long time coming, but Brisbane's La Boite Theatre has a new artistic director. David Berthold will be a familiar name to long-time Brisbane theatregoers - he was assistant to Aubrey Mellor at the Queensland Theatre Company in the early 1990s when that company was really kicking artistic goals (as it is now). There's more about Berthold here.
However, as a consequence of the drawn-out selection process, La Boite won't be launching its 2009 season until January 29 next year. By contrast, the QTC has already launched its season, and other arts organisations around Australia either already have or will soon. The big question for La Boite is: Will there be enough pennies in people's pockets to buy subscriptions after Christmas? Also, with some of the city's better actors already busy in 2009, thanks to a jammed-packed QTC season, Berthold certainly has his work cut out for him. At least there's a teaser on the La Boite website, saying the season will include Shaun Charles's adaptation of Andrew McGahan's The White Earth, a comedy-drama called The Peach Season by Debra Oswald, and Matrix Theatre's production of The Kursk, which played at the Metro Arts theatre last year.

On his Todd?

"I'll just have to handle it all with class and I intend to do that."

So says Todd McKenney, who is facing court on charges relating to the possession of the drug GHB. Given that it's been alleged that McKenney - who is about to begin a run in drag in the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and is on TV's Dancing with the Star and Sydney's Mix radio station - took his trousers off at a party to dance because it was hot, and the drug was then planted in his pants, that may be difficult.

QTC's big year

Big casts are back again. The tight economics of subsidised theatre-making have meant that plays with small casts have been the go at the Queensland Theatre Company for many, many years. Next year, there'll be some big-budget numbers, thanks in part to coproductions with Sydney Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare. Highlights include Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, Arthur Miller's The Crucible* and Bille Brown's The School of Arts. Brisbane audiences will also, finally, see QTC artistic director Michael Gow's acclaimed Toy Symphony, which inexplicably debuted at Sydney's Company B last year. There's more here.
* The last time the QTC presented The Crucible, it starred the late, great Babette Stephens as the ill-fated Rebecca Nurse. A matinee performance meant that she was late for a Glugs of Gosh theatre luncheon, but she managed to make a memorable entrance. "I'm sorry I'm late," she announced, "but I've just been hanged."

Farewell, Rob Guest

Since this item was posted, Rob Guest has passed away. There's more here and here.

My thoughts are with the family and friends of Rob Guest, the musical theatre star who suffered a stroke and is reportedly in a critical condition in a Melbourne hospital. Guest has been a particular favourite with Queensland audiences, playing the title role in the Phantom of the Opera when it first came to Brisbane and starring in several musicals at the Gold Coast Arts Centre, where he helped mentor young performers. He was in Melbourne appearing in the smash hit Wicked. Sadly, his outlook is said to be "very grim". Guest was the world's longest running Phantom and also starred in The Sound of Music and Les Miserables. And, as producer John Frost says he is an "all-round good bloke".

Berkoff's challenge

"Marcel Marceau in combat boots!" That's how the publicity release describes Steven Berkoff's one-man show Dog, which is touring Australia. That may be a fair description of the notioriously "difficult" actor, but anybody who saw this Media Watch item must feel a little sorry for Berkoff. Helen Razer's patronising interview of the distinguished actor was broadcasting at its worst. Apart from calling him "dear" and "Steve", she didn't seem at all interested in addressing the reason for his visit. Every interviewee deserves an interviewer who has done some research and at least feigns an interest in their work.
Dog details are here.
Update: Razer has been sacked, but the ABC denies it has anything to do with the Berkoff interview.

Can Katie Holmes act?

That question will be answered when the reviews are in on Mrs Tom Cruise's Broadway debut in Arthus Miller's All My Sons. The opening night festivities were somewhat hijacked by masked protestors, one of whom shouted:

“We are not boycotting Katie, we are not boycotting the play, we are protesting Scientology. It is evil ... It follows you home at night.”

Others in the crowd wee wearing "Free Katie" T-shirts.

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