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The BBC's Rosie Millard
"The London stage has been going through a rocky time lately"
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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Witches hit the West End
The Witches of Eastwick
The devil's work: Maria Friedman, Joanna Riding, Ian McShane and Lucie Arnaz
Sir Cameron Mackintosh's latest musical, The Witches of Eastwick, received a standing ovation on its first night in London's West End.

The 4.5m production of John Updike's novel marks the return to the West End of actor Ian McShane - best known for starring in Lovejoy - after 30 years in his first singing role.

Leading ladies Maria Friedman, Lucie Arnaz and Joanna Riding fly from the stage and hover above the audience, using special effects thought to have cost up to 2m alone.

The first night attracted celebrities including Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Edna Everage creator Barry Humphries, as well as Sir Cameron's former musical partner Lord Lloyd-Webber.

Devil incarnate

McShane stars as Darryl Van Horne, a role made famous by Jack Nicholson in the 1987 film of Updike's novel.

Ian McShane
McShane took singing and violin lessons to perform
Van Horne is the devil incarnate who transforms the lives of three misfits in small-town America with his sexual magnetism, bringing them out of their shells.

McShane beat the likes of Michael Douglas and Alec Baldwin to the role, which also saw him take violin lessons so he could play the instrument in a seduction scene.

His character reaches a spectacular end when his female companions dispose of him in a voodoo ritual which sees a church on stage explode.

The show also marks the London stage debut for American Lucie Arnaz, who plays sculptress Alexandra. Arnaz is the daughter of 1950s US TV star Lucille Ball.

Value for money

The show replaces Sir Cameron's Miss Saigon at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and London's theatre industry is hoping it will be a hit.

The impresario's last new production, Martin Guerre, failed to take off, and critics have savaged this year's crop of London shows.

Despite meeting more than half of the costs of the show from his own pocket, Sir Cameron is convinced it is good value for money.

"The Witches is costing a little more than Miss Saigon and that was 11 years ago. It is spectacularly modest.

"The script is very, very funny, it's got good, witty lyrics and toe-tapping tunes. It brings back the hey-day of the great American musical but for a modern audience."

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See also:

01 Mar 00 | Entertainment
McShane plays Witches' tune
25 Jan 00 | Entertainment
McShane stages devilish comeback
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