Wolverhampton Grand Theatre have announced full casting for this year’s magical pantomime adventure, Aladdin!
Fresh from the West End production of Moulin Rouge The Musical, West End leading lady and singing sensation Zoe Birkett will play Spirit Of The Ring alongside EastEnders’ Beppe Di Marco, Michael Greco as Abanazar.
Joining them is CBeebies favourite Ben Cajee in the title role of Aladdin, returning favourites Tam Ryan as Wishee Washee and Ian Adams as Widow Twankey, Duane Gooden as the Genie, Ian Billings as the Notary and introducing Wolverhampton’s own Sofie Anné as Princess Jasmine.
The cast is completed by ensemble Lydia Baber-Day, Samara Clarke, Ellie Cooper, Gabriella-Rose Marchant, Louis Quinn, Jack Skelton, Jacob Thomas and Jayd’n Tyrone.
Zoe Birkett (Spirit of the Ring) at sixteen years old became the winning female contestant of ITV’s Pop Idol (2002). Her video Get Happy went straight in at number one and she signed a management deal with Simon Fuller’s 19 Management and Universal Records. Zoe went on to perform to over 250,000 fans on two national arena tours and sang five hits on the Pop Idol Big Band album which reached number one in the album chart and went triple platinum all within a year. She has sung at various high-profile events, including singing for the Royal Family, VE day celebration Trafalgar Square, Princes Trust Concert inside Buckingham Palace, the Olivier Awards, Royal Variety Performance and many more. Over the last eleven years Zoe has been a Westend leading lady in musicals including Moulin Rouge The Musical, The Bodyguard (playing Whitney Houston’s role of Rachel Marron), Thriller Live, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Tommy, Hair, Respect La Diva, Rock Of Ages and What A Feeling. Last year Zoe published her first Children’s book of rhyming poetry titled My Favourite Is… Bathtime focusing on toddler development through poetry and rhythmic patterns which is excellent for listening, oral, and concentration skills as well as exercising their brain memory and imagination.
Michael Greco trained at the Guildford School of Acting. He is best known for his role as Beppe in EastEnders in which he had 5 glorious years. His personal favourite job, that he’s been involved in, was the Emmy and Golden Globe Award winning drama Hatfields and McCoys starring Kevin Costner, Tom Berenger and the late great Bill Paxton. Michael had a prominent role and received amazing reviews in the US press. He has just finished filming a Netflix drama in Morocco about the life of Cleopatra, produced by Will Smith and his wife Jada. He is also about to start filming on the prequel to The Hunger Games. Previous theatre includes playing Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago in London’s West End. After 30 years working professionally in theatre and film, he still has a burning desire to try out a whole array of roles and characters. Getting to play the villain in panto is an absolute joy and he cannot wait to entertain and scare the audiences of Wolverhampton.
Ben Cajee (Aladdin) has proven to be a versatile and much-loved presenter and broadcaster since landing his first job in television in 2015. He's well known to millions of children and their families through his work with BBC Children's - namely being a main presenter in the CBeebies House, as well as presenting Match of the Day Kickabout and Blue Peter on CBBC, along with Live Lessons and Bitesize Daily. Ben has performed in numerous CBeebies Christmas Shows, hosted BBC Radio Stoke's Saturday Breakfast Show and voiced the BBC Playtime Island app and Uncle Tyrell in JoJo & Gran Gran. He's written for the channel too - with scripts for Mr Tumble in Something Special, Justin's House and Colours. He also writes regularly for The Independent. Ben loves sport and previously worked for the International Cricket Council in a sport development role. Over the last 5 years he's led Match of the Day community features, presented for the Premier League, hosted matches at the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and been the voice of Wimbledon, the Olympics, Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games for BBC Sport. He's also appeared as a contestant on Celebrity Mastermind, answering questions about his beloved West Ham United.
Tam Ryan (Wishee Washee) is an accomplished actor, singer and stand-up comedian, Tam made his screen debut at the age of six, playing Edward Hodgkiss in the ITV wartime drama, How We Used to Live, before going on to train in performing arts at Leeds University and embarking on a long and varied career in entertainment. Tam is delighted to be returning to the Wolverhampton pantomime this year, following the success of last year’s production of Cinderella. He spent the three previous Christmas periods touring Elf The Musical across an array of auspicious venues, including a special performance at Wembley Arena. At 46, Tam can already be considered a veteran of British pantomime having performed in 19 pro-productions to date, including a five-year spell as resident comedian at Manchester Opera House, where along the way he shared the stage with the likes of Warwick Davis, David Hasselhoff and Priscilla Presley. As a comedian and vocalist, Tam continues to work home and abroad and is a regular performer aboard cruise ships and around the fly-back circuit for clients such as TUI, First Choice, Sensatori and Royal Caribbean. Last year being like no other, he took somewhat of siesta from live entertainment and focussed more on writing, using the lockdown periods to co-pen a comedy drama for television which is currently the subject of commissioning discussions. As an actor, Tam has been seen on our television screens most recently in Coronation Street where he played Billy Mayhew’s childhood friend Gareth Brannigan. Other notable television credits include Sam Green in Waterloo Road, Head Teacher Paul Duggan in Emmerdale and Foreman of the Jury in the feature length period drama Death Comes to Pemberley. Theatre credits include: Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice (Epstein, Liverpool); Jester in Once Upon a Mattress (Pomegranate, Chesterfield); Beast in Beauty and the Beast (touring) and Roddy O’Neil in Boogie Nights (touring). His other
appearances at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre include playing Jose in the 2016 national tour of the comedy musical Last Night a DJ Saved My Life alongside David Hasselhoff. Tam promises to give everything he has in his return to the Wolverhampton pantomime with a barrel load of love and laughter.
Ian Adams (Widow Twankey) was born in Sheffield and began his professional career as lead vocalist with the vocal/dance act Zeebra, touring Europe, north Africa and the Persian Gulf. During a successful summer season in Jersey, Ian appeared in several episodes of the BBC series Bergerac. Further afield he also appeared in cabaret in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. No stranger to variety, Ian spent two summers in the highly successful Seaside Special at the Pavilion Theatre, Cromer for the late Robert Marlowe. His first panto role was as Jack Wild’s ugly sister at the Queens Theatre, Barnstaple in 1999 and they were subsequently asked to recreate their roles the following year at the Greenwich Theatre, London. Ian has devised and performed in numerous revues including: Hooray for Hollywood, The Best of British Musicals, The A to Z of Broadway, Around the World at the Movies and And the Winner Is… a tribute to 60 years of Academy Award-winning songs. Over the years Ian has also staged the musical numbers for many music hall and variety shows both in London and around the British Isles. In the early 2000s Ian directed and appeared in two pantomimes at the Millfield Theatre Edmonton, followed by the very first pantomime in London Zoo! This was followed by summer season at the Blackpool Grand, after which he staged and toured in Magic Moments and then devised, directed and performed in The Great American Songbook which also toured. In 2006 Ian began his association with the Lichfield Garrick Theatre and during the following nine years he wrote, directed and appeared as Dame in seven pantomimes as well as playing Captain Hook and a host of ghosts in A Christmas Carol. In 2016 Wolverhampton Grand Theatre asked Ian to devise An Introduction to Pantomime, an entertainment to tour primary schools in the area introducing children to the history of pantomime and presenting a ‘potted’ version of the pantomime appearing at the Grand the same year. Over the past couple of years Ian has been writing murder mysteries which have been performed and very well received. Aladdin is Ian’s sixth pantomime at the Wolverhampton Grand and he is delighted to be back on the boards of such a wonderful theatre.
Duane Gooden (Genie) Theatre Includes: The Book Thief (Octagon Theatre, Bolton), Kinky Boots (Theatre Royal Drury Lane), Animal Rocks (Oxford Playhouse), The Smartest Giant in Town (UK Tour, Little Angel Theatre/Fiery Light), Aladdin (Evolution/Grove Theatre Dunstable), Aladdin (Theatre Royal Windsor), Mickey and the Magician (Disneyland Paris), Aladdin (Sell a Door/Catford Broadway), Go Noah Go (Little Angel Theatre), Blues in the Night (The Last Refuge), Walk in the Light (National Theatre), The Jungle Book (Bruce James Productions), Ain’t Misbehaving (Oxfordshire Theatre Company). Television and Film include: Silent Witness, Crush, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.
Ian Billings (The Notary) is the veteran of 53 pantomimes having written, directed and appeared with Frankie Howerd, Sylvester McCoy, Brian Cant, Bernie Clifton, Julie Goodyear, Little and Large, Cannon and Ball and Timmy Mallett. Sometimes clocking up four or five pantos a year in various posts. He has worked in panto venues as diverse as Theatre Royal, Nottingham, Gatwick Airport and Harwich Docks. For eight years he was resident director, writer and performer at the Place Theatre, Telford. His career began as a technician at the legendary Theatre Royal in Hanley and, after a summer season at Butlins', Ian became a juggler at Alton Towers. You can see his picture in the Ladybird Book of Discovering Alton Towers! As a script writer, Ian has penned episodes of the hugely successful CBBC TV show, ChuckleVision. In 2000, Ian achieved a Master’s Degree in Playwriting under Tony Award winning playwright, David Edgar. During which he met playwright Stephanie Dale and together they established the Theatre-in-Education Company, Theatre Works. Ian is also a children’s author and has now 32 books to his credit including Sam Hawkins and the Cutglass Cutlass for publishing giant Macmillan and Billy Plonka and the Grot Laboratory for Tiddley Pom Books. The first Sam Hawkins books was released as an audio book by the BBC. In 2007 launched his career as a stand-up comic for kids at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (whilst also presenting his own kid’s radio show on Festival FM!) and his stand-up show (combined with book signing tours) has taken Ian around the world including visits to countries such as Australia, Germany, Cyrus, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Switzerland, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. As an educationalist, Ian has performed and delivered literacy workshops into 2,500 schools and for eleven years ran the Wolverhampton, Stafford and Telford branches of Stagecoach Theatre School, being at the time, youngest Principal in the school’s history. Ian was recently nominated as Best New Writer at the BBC Audio Awards for his play about Spike Milligan, Spike and the Elfin Oak starring David Threlfall who won BBC Audio Best Actor Award. He wrote Puss in Boots touring Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In 2019 he had two radio commissions for BBC Radio Four - an adaptation of Spike Milligan’s Puckoon and Happiness! about the life of Sir Ken Dodd, for which David Threlfall. He recently wrote the audio plays There Used To Be a Me about the life of Peter Sellers starring Alfred Molina which won Gold at the New York Festivals Radio Awards and Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic Ian’s adaptation of the Terry Jones novel starring Michael Palin which was broadcast by BBC Radio Four at Christmas 2021. Ian’s new children’s books, Moby Duck and “The F.B.G. are published next year. Ian is delighted to be in panto in his home town!
Sofie Anné (Princess Jasmine) is a professional singer/performer born and raised in Wolverhampton. Sophie is extremely proud to be an ambassador for Wolverhampton Grand Theatre where she also performs at a monthly Memory Café. From a young age, Sophie has been surrounded by music and theatre with influences from her Aunty Beverley aka Wolverhampton’s own Soul Queen Beverley Knight. Sophie’s love for theatre started whilst at High School playing lead roles in both Queen’s We Will Rock You playing Killer Queen and the theatre classic Grease where she played Sandy. Sophie attended Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) which is the sister school to the Brit school in London, where she completed a 2-year music course. Sophie then went onto complete a degree in Professional Musicianship at BIMM Manchester. Sophie performs for exclusive events around the UK as well as internationally including destinations such as St Tropez, Phuket, Lake Como and Santa Barbra. Sophie has worked with artists Beverley Knight, Marisha Wallace, Jenn Bostic and Duetted with Josh Daniel from The X Factor. Sophie has made several TV appearances on BBC Songs of Praise, Channel 4’s National Comedy Awards and The Royal Variety Show.
The headline sponsor for Aladdin will be Dudley Zoo & Castle.