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Les Miserables backstage veteran dies after cancer battle

Les Miserables. Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench.
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Former cast members of Les Miserables have paid tribute to the show’s long-serving head of wigs, Melanie Oakley-Dow, who died over Christmas following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Oakley-Dow joined the musical as head of wigs when the musical transferred from the Barbican to the Palace Theatre in 1985 and remained with the production for 28 years. She died on December 27, 2013.

Rebecca Caine, who created the role of Cosette in Les Miserables, recalled first meeting Oakley-Dow when the show transferred.

“She took no nonsense, saying: “Sit down, shut up and stop calling me ‘darling’. We all loved and respected her. All those years on one show. She, more than anyone I can think of, was Les Mis,” she told The Stage.

Writing on Twitter, Joanna Ampil, who has appeared in the London production of Les Miserables as both Eponine and Fantine, said: “I will miss you so much darling Mel. Our loss is heaven’s gain.”

Nicholas Allott, managing director of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, described Oakley-Dow’s wig department as a “safe haven” during a stressful production and transfer period and added that she was much loved by the original and subsequent casts.

“Her unfailing good humour and professionalism was rock solid. In the early days she also found time to come to the office to cut Cameron’s and my hair and it was always a good opportunity to gossip and laugh. She has borne her illness bravely and cheerfully over the past few years and our world is certainly an emptier place without her presence,” he said.

Cast members of Les Miserables have previously played in charity football matches against performers from The Phantom of the Opera, which were held in support of Oakley-Dow.

These were organised by Chris Key, resident director on Les Miserables, who said Oakley-Dow would be “sorely missed”.

He added: “Anyone who has been involved with Les Mis will know what a massive part Mel played in the show, in her role as head of wigs, but also in the building. From my point of view, Les Mis vs Phantom grew from me feeling helpless watching her strength and courage, and in trying to do something that supported her in some way. Out of her bravery she has helped others who suffered from the disease or those with family who suffered from it, and through Les Mis vs Phantom £30,000 has been raised because of her and her qualities.”


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