Jason Manford and Ashley Banjo to star in Palladium’s musical Wizard of Oz

 (The Wizard of Oz)
(The Wizard of Oz)

Comedian Jason Manford and dance troupe Diversity founder Ashley Banjo will star in the London Palladium’s upcoming musical Wizard of Oz.

Manford, who is best known for his award-winning stand-up shows, will play The Cowardly Lion, while Choreographer Banjo will be making his West End musical debut as the Tin Man. Further casting is yet to be announced.

Manford riffed on a line from the film, tweeting, “Jason and Ashley and bears, oh my! @LondonPalladium this summer, we’re off to see the Wizard.”

The show will have a limited run at Palladium, opening on June 23 and closing on September 3. The musical will then tour the UK from December 13.

This isn’t Manford’s first performance in a musical: the Salford born comedian and presenter has previously starred in the 2012 Olivier-winning production of Sweeney Todd, 2015’s The Producers, 2016’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 2018’s Guys and Dolls and 2019’s Curtains.

He’s also been a regular host of the Olivier Awards, hosted The Royal Variety Performance and Sunday Night at The Palladium. Later this month he’ll be hosting BBC One’s Big Night of Musicals for the second time.

Meanwhile, as well as founding Bafta award-winning group Diversity, Banjo has starred in the Olivier Award-winning production of Dick Whittington, and has been involved with TV shows including as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent and Dancing On Ice and as the host of the Emmy and BAFTA award-winning The Real Full Monty.

Ashley Banjo and Diversity performing at the Platinum Party At The Palace at Buckingham Palace, June 2022 (Getty Images)
Ashley Banjo and Diversity performing at the Platinum Party At The Palace at Buckingham Palace, June 2022 (Getty Images)

The musical is being presented by Michael Harrison, who produced the smash-hit Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Nikolai Foster, the artistic director at Leicester’s Curve, whose past credits include Billy Elliot The Musical and A Chorus Line, is onboard as director.

The musical will feature the original score by Harold Arlen, which was such an important part of the Oscar-winning MGM film. These songs will include Over The Rainbow, Follow The Yellow Brick Road and We’re Off To See the Wizard.

In January Manford teased that he may write his own musical one day. Speaking to Guilty Pleasures he said: “Maybe I’ll write my own musical. I’ve got a couple of things bubbling away. I’m writing with some friends, and so it’s just a case of getting ‘em up on their feet and seeing how it goes.

“I love being part of a cast and crew. I really enjoy that part of a musical. As a stand-up, it’s quite a lonely job, you’re by yourself quite a lot.”

Wizard of Oz at London’s Palladium, June 23 until September 3, 2023; tickets available now here; wizardofozmusical.com