A gala production of the 1966 Broadway musical Sweet Charity - rehearsed and produced in only 48 hours - will be held on Sunday 10 December 2006 at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, hosted by Gail Porter and featuring a celebrity front-of-house team including Barbara Windsor.

This year’s Showtime Challenge 2 is held in aid of the British Heart Foundation and produced by Eyebrow Productions. It follows last year’s event, which was a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, hosted by comedian Mel Smith at the New Theatre in Oxford in aid of the Oxford Children’s Hospital £9 million fundraising campaign.

Auditions for Sweet Charity have been taking place nationally this week, and Porter will meet the finalists this Sunday (22 October 2006). Showtime Challenge 1 saw employees from education, nursing, catering, the Ministry of Defence and investment banking joining professional actors on stage. Successful auditionees will have seven weeks to independently learn the score. The production will start rehearsals for the first time on Friday 8 December. Working together for just 48 hours, the cast will then go on to perform to an audience of over 2,000 at the Theatre Royal on Sunday 10 December.

Sweet Charity - which has music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and a book by Neil Simon, with original direction and choreography by Bob Fosse - takes a look at the seedy underbelly of 1960s New York. The gullible, enchanting heroine Charity Hope Valentine dances, laughs and cries her way through a series of whirlwind romances to show-stopping numbers including “Rhythm of Life” and “Hey Big Spender.”

Stephen Sondheim described last year’s Showtime Challenge event as “genuinely fresh and exciting”. Now in a West End venue, Showtime Challenge 2 aims to be a larger-scale event. Barbara Windsor commented: “Let’s hope we raise lots of money for the very worthy British Heart Foundation.”

Meanwhile, the midnight matinee gala performance of Avenue Q - which was scheduled for Monday 23 October 2006 in aid of HIV and AIDS charity, Theatrecares (See News, 3 Oct 2006) - has been postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances”. The event – for which all performers, technicians, musicians and royalty holders and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres have agreed to waive their fees – will now take place on Monday 22 January 2007.

Avenue Q features a cast of just seven humans, three of them playing humans, the rest manipulating multiple puppets that include a closet gay puppet called Rod, a porn-addicted puppet called Trekkie Monster, and a puppet looking for love called Kate Monster (See News, 17 Feb 2006).

Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical comedy received its UK premiere at the Noel Coward Theatre on 28 June 2006 (previews from 1 June). The production is directed by Jason Moore, with puppets designed by Rick Lyon. The UK cast are Giles Terera, Julie Atherton, Jon Robyns, Simon Lipkin, Clare Foster, Sion Lloyd and Ann Harada, reprising her New York turn as Christmas Eve.

Theatregoers who booked for the original date next Monday are being offered an exchange for the new date or a full refund.

- by Caroline Ansdell