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Tuesday, July 7, 1998 Published at 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK


Princes talk to Dr Dolittle's animals

State-of-the-art robotics make their first ever stage appearance

Prince Charles and his youngest son Harry laughed and joked with the cast at Monday's royal charity gala performance of Doctor Dolittle in London.

Watch animals and actors rehearse their lines for Dr Dolittle
The multi-million-pound stage show features state-of-the-art Hollywood special effects used in a theatre for the first time.

[ image: Prince Charles: narrow miss with a two-headed llama]
Prince Charles: narrow miss with a two-headed llama
The production at Labatt's Apollo in Hammersmith has cost about 4m to stage, and the main attraction is a menagerie of 92 electronic animals created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

After the show, the princes met the cast and crew on stage. Prince Charles joked with Phillip Schofield, who plays the Doctor, asking if his fake long grey sideburns were real.

Julie Andrews' comeback

The royals were seated next to Julie Andrews, making her first appearance - albeit in voice only - on a British stage for 40 years. She had pre-recorded the lines for Polynesia the Parrot.

"Prince Charles asked me if it was good to have an evening off," said Ms Andrews.

Earlier, they watched Schofield fly into the auditorium on a giant moth which dropped him on the stage.

[ image: Phillip Schofield talks to the voice of Julie Andrews]
Phillip Schofield talks to the voice of Julie Andrews
Prince Harry could barely contain a giggle when his father was narrowly avoided a bumping into the famous two-headed llama Pushmi-pullyu.

As one of the heads lowered its 3ft electronic neck, Prince Charles stepped back in surprise, peered at the creature and asked: "Are there really people in there?"

"The lights were shining in my eyes and I didn't realised I nearly headbutted the prince," said one of the heads, Lynn Robertson-Bruce.

It took more than 60,000 man-hours to create the various animals using "animatronics" techniques perfected by Creature Shop for films like Labyrinth, and Babe.

Among the other motorised characters are a five-foot-high snail, a dog, a horse and a seal. Each creature took at least three months to complete.

[ image: Lifelike animals took months to make]
Lifelike animals took months to make
Previews of the show are being held in the week that Walt Disney's film version has reached No 2 in the top ten US films. The movie, which also features stunning special effects and stars Eddie Murphy, has raked in $65 million so far.

"The difference between this show and the Disney production is the animals talk their own languages," said the show's producer Adrian Leggit.

Dr Dolittle is based on the 1920s stories by Hugh Lofting and the 1967 movie starring Rex Harrison. Leslie Bricusse who wrote the original film score has rewritten has added three new songs for the production.

The event raised money for the charity Friends of the Elderly which runs residential and nursing homes to provide security for people on low incomes.

The official premiere takes place on July 14.

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