Australian pop and soap star Jason Donovan (pictured) - seen this past year as genial inventor Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - will return to the musical stage to play a bloodthirsty murderer, the eponymous “demon barber of Fleet Street” in Sweeney Todd. The award-winning Watermill Theatre production of the Stephen Sondheim musical launches a new UK tour on 31 January 2006 at the Theatre Royal Brighton before continuing, until 22 April, to 11 further venues.

The 25th anniversary revival of Sweeney Todd was first seen at Newbury’s 216-seat Watermill Theatre in February 2004, when Paul Hegarty played the title role in the cast of nine actor-musicians. The production then launched its initial regional tour and transferred to the West End, running first at Trafalgar Studios and then at the New Ambassadors, where it finished its extended season in February 2005.

The production, which has since been mounted on Broadway, won the 2004/5 Theatregoers’ Choice Awards for Best Musical Revival and Best Ensemble Performance (See News, 4 Feb 2005). It’s directed and designed by John Doyle.

Following Brighton, Sweeney Todd will visit Milton Keynes, Richmond, Woking, Manchester, Bromley, Stoke-on-Trent, Glasgow, York, Wycombe, Birmingham and Plymouth.

Meanwhile, Gary Wilmot – who Donovan took over from in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and who was last seen on the London stage in this summer’s HMS Pinafore at the Open Air Theatre - will also be embarking on a regional tour in the coming weeks. He stars in Personals, the musical comedy from the creators of hit American TV sitcom Friends, which opens on 3 March 2006 at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre before continuing, over 14 weeks, to Bournemouth, Torquay, Darlington, Wimbledon, Hull, York, Manchester, Jersey, Dartford, Plymouth, Cardiff, Oxford and Nottingham.

The brainchild of Marta Kauffman and David Crane, Personals was written in 1985, several years before Friends was conceived and went on to become an international phenomenon – but the characters are recognisable as early versions of the TV sextet Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Joey and Chandler.

Among the serial lonely hearts on revue are: nervous next door neighbours unwittingly answering each other's advertisements; a lonely singleton taking lessons from an interactive self-help tape; a young divorcee pining for her ex-husband; and a couple finding happiness with a 'bisexual transvestite dwarf' dressed as Carmen Miranda.

The musical received its West End debut in June 2000 at the Apollo Theatre and has also had several successful runs on the London fringe, including its 1998 UK premiere at the New End and, most recently, a sell-out season at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Personals has music by Broadway’s Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked) and Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast) as well as William Dreskin, Joel Phillip Friedman, Seth Friedman and Michael Skloff, who wrote Friends’ theme tune “I'll Be There for You”. The updated UK book and lyrics are by Kelly Marcel with additional music and lyrics by Grant Olding.

For the new tour, directed by Christian Durham, Wilmot is joined in the cast by Paul Baker (Taboo, Chicago), Cassidy Janson (Tick Tick Boom!), Gerard Bentall and Katy Secombe. The production is presented by Paul M Coxwell for Oscada Ltd.

- by Caroline Ansdell & Terri Paddock