Preview: Theatre Royal new season

Simon ParkinBig name musicals Chess, Whistle Down The Wind and Oklahoma, heavyweight acting talent and the return of smash hit Calendar Girls are part of the new season at Norwich Theatre Royal.Simon Parkin

Big name musicals Chess, Whistle Down The Wind and Oklahoma, heavyweight acting talent and the return of smash hit Calendar Girls are part of the new season at the Theatre Royal.

After selling out in Norwich last year before it even opened and a hugely successful West End run, an all-new cast return to the city in Calendar Girls on July 19-24.

The inspirational tale of a group of ordinary women who pose for a charity calendar stars Anne Charleston (Madge Bishop from Neighbours and Lily Butterfield from Emmerdale) and respected actress Gemma Craven.

There are also a trio of former EastEnders stars in the cast with Letitia Dean (Sharon Watts), Hannah Waterman (Laura Beale) and Dean Gaffney (Robbie Jackson).

The all-star line-up is completed by Ground Force's iconic celebrity gardener Charlie Dimmock, and Sue Holderness (Marlene in Only Fools and Horses and The Green Green Grass Of Home).

Also announced is the the long-awaited tour of the legendary musical Chess on November 30-December 4. Strictly Come Dancing's Craig Revel Horwood directs and choreographs a brand new staging of the classic musical written by Abba's Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. The show boasts one of the best known theatre-scores of all time including One Night In Bangkok, and I Know Him So Well.

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Two more classic musicals also take centre-stage too.

Whistle Down The Wind, Andrew Lloyd Webber's extraordinary and uplifting tale about the power of love, runs from July 12-17. The cast is headed by Jonathan Ansell, the lead vocalist in X Factor runners-up G4, who captured the heart of the nation with his exceptional vocals. He plays the mysterious man discovered in a barn who is protected by local children in a production promising powerful staging, an epic story and multi-award-winning songs including No Matter What.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma also visits from September 14-18 and tells the story of farm girl Laurey and the two men vying for her love.

The show stars one of Britain's most popular leading ladies Marti Webb, and West End stalwart Mark Evans who was a runner-up in Your Country Needs You, the search for someone to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Musical icons are celebrated in two different shows. You could Beat It to the box office for Man In The Mirror, a celebration of Michael Jackson's biggest songs, on August 3-7. Alternatively, be a Super Trouper and Take A Chance on the ultimate feelgood night out with Abba celebration Dancing Queen from August 31 to September 4.

The theatre's reputation as a hub for the premiere performers from the arts world is also set to continue bolstering Norwich's bid to be the next City of Culture as four of Britain's most respected actors star in an uplifting play about friendship just before it transfers to the West End.

Quartet, which runs from August 9-14, tells the story of three retired opera singers preparing to perform but their tranquil world is thrown into chaos with the arrival of a legendary diva.

The cast includes the critically-acclaimed Timothy West, film icon Susannah York, Gwen Taylor and Edward Hardwicke, who played Dr Watson in the ITV Sherlock Holmes series.

The modern-day dance classic Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake makes its long-awaited return to Norwich on September 9-11. The ground-breaking production has already amassed more than 30 international awards including three Tony's and is best known for replacing the traditional female corps de ballet with a menacing male ensemble.

Other dance highlights include the Rambert Dance Company's interpretation of the hit Hollywood movie Awakenings (October 13-15) and Northern Ballet Theatre take the audience into the enchanting world of The Nutcracker (November 2-6). And the English Youth Ballet returns to Norwich on July 2-3 with a glittering new production of Sleeping Beauty.

There will also be a feast for fans of opera with the return of Glyndebourne On Tour. They will be presenting Mozart's masterpiece Don Giovanni on November 16 and 19, Rossini's comedy La Cenerentola on November 17 and 20, and Monteverdi's passionate story of forbidden love The Coronation Of Poppea on November 18.

The Britten Sinfonia will present a third season of four concerts beginning with a performance of James McMillan's new oboe concerto written especially for them on October 20.

Theatre spokesman John Bultitude said: 'We are pleased to have attracted some very exciting shows here to Norwich. As well as welcoming back Calendar Girls and Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, there is also the West End-calibre cast of Quartet and the high-quality experience of a night at the opera during Glyndebourne On Tour.

'Once again, it just goes to show that a wide range of high-quality national productions can be found and enjoyed in this area and can only strengthen the case for Norwich to become the first City of Culture.'

t Tickets for the new season go on sale to Friends by post on Aril 6 and in person on April 13, and to the general public online and by post from May 5 and in person and phone from May 12. Booking details: 01603 630000,