Anna Francolini (pictured) and Frank Waldhorn will next month join Anne Reid, Beverley Klein and Clive Rowe (with whom Francolini appeared last year at the National in Caroline, Or Change, for which they both received nominations in the Awards) in the Royal Opera House’s new production of Into the Woods (See News, 15 Mar 2007). The revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1989 musical runs for 18 performances only, from 14 to 30 June 2007 (with a press opening on 18 June), in the ROH’s 400-seat Linbury Studio Theatre.

In Into the Woods, 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, bringing a dark and contemporary adult view to the childhood idea of “happily ever after”. Composer and lyricist Sondheim and book writer 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.

In addition to Caroline, Or Change, Anna Francolini’s stage credits include Almost Like Being in Love, Six Pictures of Lee Miller, The Ballad of Little Jo and Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and Company (both at the Donmar Warehouse). Gary Waldhorn is best known to TV viewers from The Vicar of Dibley, while his stage credits include Much Ado About Nothing, All’s Well That Ends Well, Mahler’s Conversion, Black Comedy, The Real Inspector Hound and Six Degrees of Separation.

Into the Woods is 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).

The cast, drawn from the opera and musical theatre worlds, also includes: Gillian Kirkpatrick, Peter Caulfield, Elizabeth Brice, Louise Bowden, Christina Haldane, Lara Pulver, Martin Nelson, Suzanne Toase, Linda Hibberd, Nicholas Garrett, Nic Greenshields and Byron Watson. The performers 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 directed by Will Tuckett, making his musical debut, and designed by Lez Brotherston with lighting by Tim Mitchell.

At the West End’s Cambridge Theatre, Josefina Gabrielle and Amra-Faye Wright this week rejoin the cast of Chicago, taking over from Tina Arena and Annette McLaughlin as murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. Both actresses have had multiple previous stints in the Kander and Ebb musical, in the West End, on Broadway and/or on tour. Also returning to the company this week is Sue Kelvin, who succeeds Susie McKenna as prison matron Mama Morton. The Kander and Ebb musical’s cast also now features Michael Simkins as Billy Flynn, Matthew Lloyd Davies as Amos Hart and T Solomon as Mary Sunshine.

The current production of Chicago opened at the Cambridge Theatre (where the musical’s original London production ran for 603 performances from April 1979) on 28 April 2006, after eight-and-a-half years at the Adelphi Theatre. It won the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production as well as the 1998 Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical.

Kander and Ebb’s 1975 musical is based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and has a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The current stage revival, which transferred from Broadway, is directed by Walter Bobbie and designed by John Lee Beatty, with choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse.

And on tour, squeaky-voiced comedian and I’m a Celebrity star Joe Pasquale and Russ Abbot (whose recent musical credits include My Fair Lady and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) will join the cast of The Producers when it moves on to the New Victoria Theatre, Woking next week.

The touring production of the West End and Broadway hit opened on 22 February (previews from 19 February) at Manchester’s Palace Theatre where it finishes this Saturday (12 May 2007). Pasquale succeeds John Gordon Sinclair as mild-mannered accountant Leo Bloom and Abbot replaces Peter Kay cross-dresser Roger DeBris, the world’s worst director. The pair appear in the production at Woking (16 May to 2 June), Sunderland (5 to 30 June), Birmingham (3 July to 4 August) and Bristol (21 August to 15 September).

In Mel Brooks’ irreverent comedy (based on his 1968 Oscar-winning film), washed-up theatre producer Max Bialystock and his timid accountant cook up a scheme to make a fortune by presenting a sure-fire flop called "Springtime for Hitler". The Producers also currently stars Cory English (as Max Bialystock), Emma-Jayne Appleyard (Ulla), Alex Giannini (Franz Liebkind) and Robin Sebastian (Carmen Ghia).

- by Terri Paddock