Taking a leaf out of ENO’s book, the Royal Opera House will this summer mount a major new musical production with a high-profile cast drawn from both the operatic and West End worlds. Anne Reid, Beverley Klein and Olivier Award winner Clive Rowe will star in the ROH revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods.

It’s the second Sondheim outing for the Royal Opera. In December 2003, the company’s revival of Sweeney Todd, cast operatically, made history as the first musical presented on the Covent Garden 2,200-seat main stage auditorium since the building’s opening in 1892 (See News, 19 Sep 2006) . Into the Woods - which will mark the musical directorial debut of Will Tuckett whose stagings of The Wind in the Willows and Pinocchio have become ROH Christmas staples – will run for 18 performances only from 14 to 30 June 2007 (with a press opening on 18 June) at the 400-seat Linbury Studio Theatre.

Well-known storybook characters Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel are joined by a new creation, the tale of The Baker and His Wife, in the 1989 musical, which brings a dark and contemporary adult view to the childhood idea of “happily ever after”. Composer and lyricist Sondheim and book writer James Lapine also collaborated on Passion and Sunday in the Park with George, revived to five-time Olivier Award-winning effect by the Menier Chocolate Factory in the West End last year.

Beverley Klein’s recent stage credits include Sweeney Todd (Opera North, plus London, Leeds and National Tour), Six Pictures of Lee Miller, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (Chichester), Candide, Summerfolk, The Villains’ Opera, Honk! The Ugly Duckling (all National) and The Holy Terror in the West End. She was a member of the original cast of Les Miserables.

BAFTA-nominated for the film The Mother, Anne Reid’s other screen credits include Dinnerladies, Coronation Street, Life Begins, Jane Eyre, Bleak House and The Bad Mother’s Handbook on TV and Hot Fuzz on film. Reid’s stage credits include The York Realist, Wild Oats and, in the West End last year, Epitaph for George Dillon.

Clive Rowe’s extensive theatre CV includes the musicals Carousel, Simply Heavenly, Chicago, Candide, Carmen Jones, Guys and Dolls (for which he won an Olivier for his role as Nicely Nicely Johnson in the National Theatre production) and, most recently at the NT, Caroline, Or Change, for which he was nominated in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Awards.

Also in Into the Woods are Gillian Kirkpatrick, Peter Caulfield, Elizabeth Brice, Martin Nelson, Suzanne Toase, Linda Hibberd, Nicholas Garrett, Katrina Murphy, Nic Greenshields and Byron Watson. The cast will be accompanied by 14 musicians, conducted by James Holmes, head of music for Opera North, one of the foremost interpreters of Sondheim’s music in the UK. The production is designed by Lez Brotherston with lighting by Tim Mitchell.

The original Broadway production of Into the Woods opened in November 1989 and ran for 764 performances at the Martin Beck Theater, directed by Lapine. The show opened in London in September 1990 at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre, where it ran until 23 February 1991. A major gala staging at the Royal Albert Hall – which was to star Anita Dobson, Vinnie Jones, Laura Michelle Kelly and Joanna Riding – was cancelled last October (See News, 16 Sep 2006).

In other Sondheim-related news, Derby Playhouse will revive the maestro’s famously backward-moving 1981 piece Merrily We Roll Along for a limited season from 19 April to 19 May 2007 (previews from 14 April). Directed by Karen Louise Hedben, who has previously directed Sondheim’s Company and Into the Woods at Derby, the cast will also feature several West End veterans, including Glenn Carter (Jesus Christ Superstar), Glyn Kerslake (Phantom of the Opera), Julie-Alanah Brighten (Tell Me on a Sunday, Le Cava) and Eliza Lumley (Mary Poppins). The production is designed by Dan Potra, who helped design the opening and closing ceremonies at the Sydney Olympics.

- by Terri Paddock