A star-studded gala to honour the centenary of the birth of poet John Betjeman will be held on 10 September 2006 at the West End’s Prince of Wales Theatre, hosted by Barry Humphries. It’s expected to feature performances from stars including Judi Dench, Prunella Scales and Stephen Fry.

The gala will include variety, music and dance performances, with music from British Sea Power, Suggs, Jools Holland and St Paul’s Church Choir. Proceeds from the evening, sponsored by Shell, will go to mental health charity SANE, which aims to raise awareness and respect for people with mental illness and their families.

Other names mentioned in connection with the project - which has been organised by Betjeman’s daughter Candida Lycett Green - include Richard E Grant, Timothy West, Sinead Cusack, Rachael Stirling, Joanna Lumley and Bill Nighy, though all appearances are subject to availability.

Betjeman worked as a journalist and broadcaster as well as a poet. He was knighted in 1969 and was made Poet Laureate in 1972. He died of Parkinson’s disease in 1984.

The cast of Broadway hit Wicked, which opens at the West End’s Apollo Victoria on 27 September 2006 (previews from 7 September), are gearing up for a special gala preview performance in aid of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (See News, 16 Dec 2005).

The charity performance will be held at the Apollo Victoria on 19 September 2006, hosted by Sharon Osbourne. The show will be followed by an exclusive VIP supper along with Wicked cast members at Bluebird Brasserie, sponsored by Bluebird and Hildon Natural Mineral Water.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation, established in 1993, is an international non-profit organisation funding direct patient care services that help to alleviate the physical, emotional and financial hardship for those living with HIV/AIDS as well as AIDS prevention education programmes.

Wicked tells the “untold story” of the Witches of Oz - popular blonde Glinda (Helen Dallimore), the Good Witch of the North, and her spin-victim friend Elphaba (Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel), the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West – who were both immortalised in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz.

The show has a book by Winnie Holtzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell). It’s directed by Joe Mantello and designed by Eugene Lee. Adam Garcia, Nigel Planer and Miriam Margolyes also star.

Tickets for the special gala performance of Wicked cost £75, with the best VIP seats to include the post-show supper priced at £250.

Meanwhile, double Olivier Award winner Joanna Riding will star as Little Red Riding Hood in the upcoming gala performances of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (See News, 27 Jun 2006).

Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1989 musical will be presented – for two performances only – at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Children’s Society to celebrate the charity’s 125th anniversary, on Sunday 22 October 2006 at 3.00pm and 7.30pm.

Riding, whose credits include My Fair Lady, The Witches of Eastwick, Carousel and Me and My Girl, as well as plays Blithe Spirit, Hobson's Choice, and Playing for Time, will join the previously announced footballer-turned-film-star Vinnie Jones, Anita Dobson and Laura Michelle Kelly in the musical performance (See News, 1 Aug 2006).

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 musical, which features a different take on the idea of “happily ever after”. 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.

Further star casting is still to be announced.

- by Caroline Ansdell