Letitia Dean, best known as Sharon Watts in the BBC soap EastEnders, is to play the role of eccentric drama teacher Ms Darbus in the stage production of High School Musical at the Hammersmith Apollo this summer. This new stage show of the popular Disney film runs at the West London venue from 28 June to 31 August (press night 1 July).
A former Sylvia Young student, Dean’s career began as a child, predominantly on television. After a period in school drama Grange Hill, Dean joined the original cast of EastEnders in 1985 to play Sharon. She remained in the programme until 1995, then reprised the role in 2001, appearing on and off until 2006. More recently she took part in the celebrity dance competition Strictly Come Dancing and the subsequent live tour. In addition to a period in the musical Annie at the Victoria Palace as a child, Dean’s stage credits include Present Laughter at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, a national tour of Loot and several pantomimes.
“I am absolutely delighted to be playing Ms Darbus,” commented Dean. “Musical theatre is my first love and this will be the first time I have been on a musical stage since I was in Annie when I was 13. I grew up with Judy Garland and Calamity Jane so this is a joy for me and I loved dancing in Strictly Come Dancing.”
High School Musical began life as a television movie on the Disney Channel starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Its huge popularity led to a sequel, a best selling DVD and a soundtrack recording which topped the charts in the US. A third movie is due to be released this year.
The story follows Troy, a popular high school basketball star, and Gabriella, a shy, academically gifted newcomer, who discover they share a secret passion for singing. When they sign up to audition together for the lead roles in the school musical it threatens East High’s rigid social order and sends their peers into uproar. Soon the jocks and the brainiacs are hatching convoluted plans to separate the pair and keep them offstage. Meanwhile Troy and Gabriella inspire the other students to go public with some surprising hidden talents of their own.
While a stage production of High School Musical continues to tour the UK, the show at the Hammersmith Apollo will be an entirely new production, designed specifically for the venue and featuring a different cast. Further casting details are yet to be announced.