Former X Factor winner Sam Bailey and award-winning comedian and actress Elaine C Smith will join the previously announced Jodie Prenger in the major new musical re-shaping of popular ITV drama Fat Friends later this year.
Bailey, the former real-life prison officer whose theatre roles include playing Mamma Morton in last year’s UK tour of Chicago, will share the role of Betty (played by Alison Steadman in the hit series) with Smith, the Scottish actress best known for co-starring in Rab C Nesbitt.
Prenger, who is currently touring the UK in Shirley Valentine, will lead the company in the role played by Ruth Jones in the TV series which first hit the small screen in October 2000. Further casting is to be announced.
Written and directed by the creator of the TV series Kay Mellor and with original music by Nicholas Lloyd Webber, Fat Friends – The Musical will begin a four-week debut run at the Leeds Grand Theatre on 7 November ahead of a major UK tour in 2018.
Commenting on the casting, Mellor said: “I was absolutely delighted when we announced Jodie Prenger would lead the cast for Fat Friends – The Musical, she’s the perfect fit to bring Kelly to life on stage and I can’t wait to see her in action. It fills me with pride to know that the musical will be seen by audiences across the nation with such a talented cast.
“I watched every episode of The X Factor when Sam was in it, because to me she was an ordinary woman. A mother and a wife who had the voice of an angel and a wonderfully warm personality. It was one of those rare times that I actually picked up the phone and voted. I auditioned Sam for about one minute for Fat Friends – The Musical. As soon as she said my words and I looked in her eyes, I knew that she understood the character of Betty. She is an instinctive actress that will bring great depth and warmth to the character.
“I first saw Elaine in Rab C Nesbitt and thought she was absolutely hilarious and a genius. I saw her again when she was in the West End with my daughter Gaynor in Calendar Girls and, in fact, she came to my OBE celebration dinner! It was a complete pleasure to finally work with her in my TV series The Syndicate, and now it’s an absolute delight to work with her on stage as she plays our Superslimmer finalist and Mother of the Bride during the Scottish dates of our tour.”
Produced by Joshua Andrews and Adam Spiegel, Fat Friends – The Musical will play the Leeds Grand until 2 December. The production will be designed by Bretta Gerecke, with orchestrations, arrangement and musical supervision by Simon Lee, sound design by Gareth Owen and lighting design by Nick Richings.
Launching in January 2018, the tour will visit Bromley, Newcastle, Hull, Southampton, Sheffield, Southend, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Dartford, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bradford, Aberdeen and Blackpool.
The story of the lives and loves of a group of dieters, Fat Friends first arrived on television nearly 17 years ago. With a cast that included Alison Steadman, Sheridan Smith and Mellor’s daughter, Emmerdale and Coronation Street actress Gaynor Faye, the show was credited with launching the careers of James Corden and Ruth Jones.