The Royal Variety Performance 2006, held next Monday 4 December 2006 at the London Coliseum on 4 December, will feature extracts from four West End musicals: Wicked, Spamalot, Avenue Q and The Sound of Music.

The show - the 78th Royal Variety Performance - will take place in the presence of their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and will be broadcast by BBC One later in December, hosted by Jonathan Ross. The performance is in aid of the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund.

Broadway blockbuster musical Wicked tells the “untold story” of the Witches of Oz - popular blonde Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and her spin-victim friend Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West – who were both immortalised in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. The show, which opened at the Apollo Victoria on 27 September 2006 (following previews from 7 September) has a book by Winnie Holtzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

American Idina Menzel reprises her Tony Award-winning Broadway performance as Elphaba, while Australian Helen Dallimore plays “good witch” Glinda. They will lead other cast members - including Adam Garcia, Nigel Planer and Miriam Margolyes - at the Royal Variety Performance. There will be no performance at the Apollo Victoria that night.

Triple Tony Award-winning Monty Python musical Spamalot, “lovingly ripped off” from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, tells the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in their quest to find the religious relic – and features a chorus line of dancing divas (with serfs), flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and a legless knight.

Tim Curry reprises his Broadway role as King Arthur in a cast that also features Hannah Waddingham, David Birrell, Tim Goodman-Hill, Robert Hands and American Christopher Sieber. Spamalot has a book and lyrics by original Python Eric Idle, who has also co-written the music with John Du Prez. The London production reunites the Broadway creative team including set and costume designer Tim Hatley, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, choreographer Casey Nicholaw and director Mike Nichols. There will be no performance at the Palace Theatre that night.

Avenue Q features a cast of just seven, 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 Naoko Mori.

The show will still go ahead at the Noel Coward Theatre on Monday, but at the earlier time of 6pm so that the cast can then appear on the Royal Variety Performance. All tickets to Avenue Q at 6pm will cost just £20.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music will also feature on the Royal Variety Performance, with “the people’s Maria” Connie Fisher performing. In the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, which opened on 15 November 2006 (previews from 3 November), Fisher plays nun-turned-nanny Maria opposite Alexander Hanson, who replaced Simon Shepherd as Captain von Trapp (See News, 6 Nov 2006). The production also stars soprano Lesley Garrett as the Mother Abbess, Lauren Ward as the Baroness, Ian Gelder as Max, Sophie Bould as Liesl and Neil McDermott as Rolf, as well as three teams of children.

There will be a performance of The Sound of Music at the Palladium on 4 December, but Connie Fisher will not be appearing. The role of Maria will be played instead by Sophie Bould, who usually plays Liesl, while Liesl will be played by Bould’s understudy.

Meanwhile, The Sound of Music’s director, Jeremy Sams, will direct Charles Dance and Janie Dee in a rehearsed reading of Shadowlands in aid of the Pahar Trust, Nepal, for one performance only at the West End’s Comedy Theatre on Sunday 10 December 2006 at 7pm.

Winner of the Evening Standard Play of the Year 1990 and nominated for three Olivier Awards for its West End run, BAFTA Award Winner William Nicholson’s Shadowlands is the true love story of CS Lewis (Dance) and Joy Gresham (Dee).

Lewis, a leading Christian academic and author of many classic books including The Chronicles of Narnia, remained a bachelor until his fifties, when he met Joy. He was enchanted by this remarkable American woman, a divorcee with two young children. They fell in love and were secretly married. Lewis' ensuing encounter with love and suffering led him to reconsider many of the beliefs he had held so staunchly before their fateful meeting.

The Pahar Trust is a charity set up to raise money to build schools in remote villages amidst the mountainous regions in Nepal. The reading at the Comedy Theatre – where Dee is currently appearing in Sams’ production of Michael Frayn’s Donkeys' Years - is produced by Miranda Hewitt. Dee’s many other West End credits include Mack and Mabel, Betrayal, Comic Potential and My One and Only. Dance has most recently been seen on television in Bleak House.

- by Caroline Ansdell