Russ Abbot is to replace Rowan Atkinson as Fagin in London’s hit production of Oliver! for two weeks while the former Blackadder star has immediate surgery on a hernia.
Atkinson had been performing with the injury for some weeks, but aggravated it while on holiday with his family. The star flew home early to undergo surgery as soon as possible and speed his return to the stage.
Abbot, who previously played Fagin in the 1994 London Palladium production, will take to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane stage from 13 April, providing cover for Atkinson who is expected back on 27 April. Tim Laurenti, who played Fagin during Atkinson’s holiday, will continue in the role until 11 April.
Commenting on the change of casting, Oliver!’s producer Cameron Mackintosh said: “Our sympathy goes out to Rowan and all our best wishes for a speedy recovery and return to the production. I regret the disappointment this will cause to many but I am delighted that Russ has so ably stepped into the breach. He is a consummate all-round performer and had a personal triumph in this role when I last produced the show in London and on tour.”
At the height of his television fame in the 1980s and 1990s, Abbot was best known as a comedian, appearing on shows such as the self-titled The Russ Abbot Show and Mad House. In recent years he has been a prolific musical performer, appearing in Dr Dolittle, My Fair Lady, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Producers.
Oliver!, opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 14 January with Atkinson as Fagin, Torchwood’s Burn Gorman as Bill Sykes and Jodie Prenger, chosen through BBC TV show I’d Do Anything, as Nancy. The hit musical, based on Dickens’s Oliver Twist, features a score by Lionel Bart full of songs now ingrained in musical theatre’s history such as Food Glorious Food, You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, I’d Do Anything, Consider Yourself and As Long As He Needs Me.
Atkinson is due to play Fagin until 18 July. From 20 July comic Omid Djalili takes over in the iconic role.