Ewan McGregor to follow footsteps of stars from Hollywood who have trodden West End's boards

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The Independent Culture

Ewan McGregor is to make his West End musical debut in a production of Guys and Dolls, joining the stream of film stars treading the boards in London. McGregor, 33, who is filming The Island, a sci-fi thriller with Scarlett Johansson, will take the role of the gambler Sky Masterson, a part immortalised on film by the late Marlon Brando half a century ago.

Ewan McGregor is to make his West End musical debut in a production of Guys and Dolls, joining the stream of film stars treading the boards in London. McGregor, 33, who is filming The Island, a sci-fi thriller with Scarlett Johansson, will take the role of the gambler Sky Masterson, a part immortalised on film by the late Marlon Brando half a century ago.

Michael Grandage, who will direct the production next spring, said McGregor's performance singing opposite Nicole Kidman in the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge showed he was "perfect casting". Masterson is a focal point of the gangster drama as well as the romantic lead, with his attempted seduction of a young Salvation Army missionary.

"One needs a wonderful actor to play Sky Masterson," Grandage said. "It's one of the four principal parts in the piece, and the romantic hero. You need someone who can act that, then sing it. Unlike people who have played the part before, it will be no surprise that Ewan can sing it. After Moulin Rouge, he was the perfect candidate but the question was whether we could get him.

"We heard he was looking for a project to do in 2005 and we approached him with this and he was very, very excited by the material. So he's the first part of key casting and now we can start engaging others."

The production is another first for McGregor who, since early acclaim in Shallow Grave and Trainspotting a decade ago, has alternated mainstream success in films such as Star Wars, with offbeat projects such as the low-budget Scottish movie Young Adam.

He is also tipped to play the next James Bond, replacing Pierce Brosnan in the 21st 007 adventure.

Guys and Dolls, written by Frank Loesser and based on the stories of Damon Runyon, will not be McGregor's first appearance in the West End. The actor, who began at Perth Repertory Theatre in Scotland, starred in the play Little Malcolm and His Struggle against the Eunuchs, directed by his uncle, the actor Denis Lawson, five years ago.

McGregor's new role is likely to prove one of his biggest challenges. The demands of a big-budget musical have defeated many stars. Martine McCutcheon won rave reviews for her West End performance in My Fair Lady but found the strain of performing six days a week too demanding for her voice and missed many shows.

Richard Dreyfuss was recently forced to quit the Mel Brooks musical The Producers after failing to cope with the demands of singing and dancing. It opens tonight with Nathan Lane, who created the role on Broadway, in place instead.

A new version of Guys and Dolls was the suggestion of the Ambassador Theatre Group, which owns a string of theatres in London. Its executives took the idea to Grandage, who runs the highly acclaimed but small-scale Donmar Warehouse. It will be the first Donmar collaboration to open outside its 250-seat auditorium.

The show was a big hit for the National Theatre 23 years ago and has been revived. But Grandage said: "There's a whole generation of people now who won't have seen a new production of a musical which is acknowledged to be one of the greatest written."

The musical would have the same style as other Donmar productions, with "bold staging and exceptionally high production values", he said. But he hoped that the West End performances would introduce a new audience to the Donmar's work, which is what happened last year when its production of Pirandello's Henry IV toured to three other venues in the UK.

Grandage is now rehearsing the musical Grand Hotel and has directed Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. His most recent hit was Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos, starring Sir Derek Jacobi, which has just closed at the Sheffield Crucible and will transfer to the Gielgud Theatre, London, from 28 January.

Before McGregor steps into the theatrical limelight, another big-name film star will be making her West End debut. Holly Hunter, who has appeared in The Piano and Broadcast News, among many others, is starring in By the Bog of Cats, a dark play set in rural Ireland, at the Wyndham's Theatre from this month.

HITS AND MISSES

Nicole Kidman, 'The Blue Room', Donmar Warehouse, 1998

In a performance famously described by a critic as "pure theatrical Viagra", Kidman showed enormous aplomb in a dazzling update of the erotic classic La Ronde. She also looked fantastic in her nude scenes.

Verdict: Hit

Kevin Spacey, 'The Iceman Cometh', Almeida followed by the Old Vic, 1998

"Simply electrifying" was The Independent's verdict on a performance which never flagged, although Eugene O'Neill's classic, uncut, ran to more than four hours, and where he had strong rivals in a crack cast of 19.

Verdict: Hit

Gwyneth Paltrow, 'Proof', Donmar Warehouse, 2002

Although critics had reservations, Paltrow made a strong impression as the daughter of a brilliant and newly deceased mathematician. The Independent praised her comic flair and moments of "arresting stillness".

Verdict: Hit

Madonna, 'Up For Grabs', Wyndham's Theatre, 2002

Madonna's performance as an art dealer was slated. "She's terribly wooden and self-conscious, with a surprisingly feeble voice," The Independent on Sunday critic said. The Guardian said "her hands flail around like those of a traffic cop".

Verdict: Miss

Matthew Perry, 'Sexual Perversity in Chicago', Comedy Theatre, 2003

The Daily Telegraph called this David Mamet play with Perry, of TV's Friends, "another heavily hyped non-event in which a big American star condescends to grace the West End to prove he's a serious actor".

Verdict: Miss

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