"Into the Woods," Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical fairy tale, takes on a grimmer look in London, with blood-streaked walls and a moon that crashes down in the second act.

"It's a steady descent into bleakness and blackness," said Julia McKenzie, who plays the witch in the 1987 Sondheim-James Lapine musical opening Sept. 25 at London's Phoenix Theater.The show, budgeted at 1.2 million pounds ($2.23 million), is directed by Richard Jones and designed by Richard Hudson, a team who have been working jointly in opera and the subsidized theater for the past decade.

"Into the Woods" is the second Sondheim musical to receive a major British production this year. His 1984 "Sunday in the Park With George" finished a 15-week run June 16 at the Royal National Theater.

"Into the Woods" won three Tony awards including one for Sondheim's score, but some critics saw it as a schizophrenic work whose halves never quite meshed.

The first act sends such fairy tale characters as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella "into the woods," where all end up living happily ever after, their wishes fulfilled. In Act 2, their happiness proves short-lived. A marauding giant emerges in the woods, bringing death and devastation and belatedly teaching the characters the importance of responsibility and companionship.

McKenzie, inheriting Bernadette Peters' Broadway role, said this new production would differ greatly from its predecessor. For a start, the British cast can use its own accents, because the show is set in no particular country.

This is McKenzie's fourth Sondheim musical in London following "Company," "Side by Side by Sondheim," and "Follies." Sondheim is writing a song for her "Into the Woods" role that wasn't in the long-running New York version.

Designer Richard Hudson said he based his sets on drawings from Victorian children's books, German fairy tales culled from London's Goethe Institute and the 19th-century French illustrator, Gustave Dore.