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Murderous Desire To Dance The Salsa… Behind The Scenes Mayhem Fails To Dent Mad Manny… It's A Shambles, It's Mad, It's A Hit

Murderous Desire To Dance The Salsa

Nichola McAuliffe is thrilled to be putting on the razzle- dazzle in a dramatic blend of salsa and song

Charlotte Cripps

6 September 2004
Copyright © 2004 Independent Newspapers (UK) Limited. All rights reserved.

THE FIRST Puerto Rican salsa musical - Murderous Instincts - is coming to the West End starring the Olivier award-winning actress Nichola McAuliffe.

"The technical rehearsal is hell," she says of today"s work. "It goes on and on and on. God help them on Mary Poppins. If ours goes on for days, their"s will go on for weeks."

In her new lead role as Edwina, she plays a former singer and glamourous widow awaiting the arrival of her grown-up children at the palatial family estate in Puerto Rico. They all gather for the reading of the will after her tycoon husband dies. With everyone desperate to get their hands on the inheritance, and Edwina"s subsequent mysterious disappearance, the plot unfolds around a tale of passion, intrigue and, of course, murderous instincts.

What attracted McAuliffe to the role? "If somebody said would you like to play a part that is a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley Bassey - with a touch of Margarita Pracatan [the hilarious singer on The Clive James Show] you would say yes - even if it is just for the costumes," says McAuliffe, who has to wear a microphone pack between her legs throughout the show. Thankfully the costumes she wears are elegant - "drop-dead gorgeous actually - my God they make an impact - my wig is straight out of the Elizabeth Taylor film Butterfield 8."

McAuliffe was recently seen performing in the stage musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang last year as Baroness Bomburst and in Noel Coward"s Semi-Monde.

The cast also includes West End star Kevin Colson (Aspects of Love and Chess) who plays Adolfo, the butler, and World Salsa Champion, Jhesus Aponte - who is salsa choreographer and the show"s principal dancer. As one of the world"s leading Latin dance choreographers, he has worked with Jennifer Lopez and Michael Jackson. Here, he dances with co-star Janet Fuentes Torres - another hot salsa star - along with a team of 12 playing household servants that regularly breaks into wild salsa routines throughout the show.

"The osteopath has been called in on many occasions during rehearsals because the rest of the British cast are not used to that sort of movement," remarks McAuliffe. However, her role as Edwina does not require much dancing. Instead, she struts around the stage "wiggling my bum" and then sings the big number - "La Reina Regreso" at the end, "once I am liberated to sing again after the death of my husband."

Apparently the show"s producer, Manny Fox, is thinking of casting Meryl Streep in her role on Broadway. "It would be madness. She is not Puerto Rican - any more than I am!" McAuliffe does, however, speak mainland Spanish. But she is having to drop a few "Ss" for the Puerto Rican accent.

Murderous Instincts has already been a hit: two years ago in Puerto Rica, with its infectious salsa score by the leading Puerto Rican composer Alberto Carrion. Bob Carlton, the Olivier Award-winning director of Return to the Forbidden Planet directs the British premiere.

"Murderous Instincts", Savoy Theatre, London, 10 September to 29 January (0870 164 8787)

Behind The Scenes Mayhem Fails To Dent Mad Manny Pounds 2m Salsa Show Beats All The Odds


2 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 Telegraph Group Limited, London. All rights reserved.

The Daily Telegraph

THE opening next week of London's first big salsa musical is little short of a miracle. The pounds 2 million Murderous Instincts, which is aimed at cashing in on the country's salsa boom, is well named. Its journey to the Savoy Theatre has been cursed by rows, sackings, resignations, complaints to the actors' union Equity, a marital crisis and terrible reviews in a provincial warm-up. All this has been overseen by a high-octane producer, a Jewish New Yorker who might have leapt straight out of Mel Brooks's film The Producers.

Manny Fox, 70, has been described by one of his cast as "mad as a box of frogs". He just laughs. Eight directors, including those who helped Fox first stage Murderous Instincts in Puerto Rico where he lives, have fallen by the wayside and the musical, written by his wife, Cinda, may make history by opening in the West End without one. Instead, it is being steered by two "artistic advisers" who were parachuted in a fortnight ago to save the show from oblivion.

"Making a hit show is a very brutal business," Fox admitted yesterday with a wave of his huge cigar, which he uses as a prop but never smokes. "I absolutely deny suggestions that I am impossible to work with or some kind of ball-breaker. I strive for a standard of excellence. "Cinda and I have raised $6 million for this. We have mortgaged our house and we've got just one shot at getting it right. If we don't, we lose everything. "

Yes, it's been chaos. For a couple of weeks the show has been in shambles and everybody has been living through a great trauma with all their insecurities coming out. "But I would like to say that I have never lied, cheated or stolen from anyone. We are all on this planet to grow spiritually. My mantra is collaborative passion with respect for all . . . and I am working on that every day. Everyone in the cast used to love me . . . some still do."

Fox's bravado may match the Latino beat of his show but masks the backstage miseries. The producer, a Broadway veteran, and Cinda, an heiress of the Firestone rubber company, had their artistic differences with five or six directors before they staged what they call their "salsa comedy murder mystery" in Puerto Rico two years ago. Mrs Fox says the story, about a rum tycoon and a battle over his will, is based on her family, although she has had to tone down the details "because nobody would believe the real story".

Problems in Britain started when Fox hired the respected Royal Shakespeare Company director, Gregory Thompson, then parted company with him. When the show was staged in Norwich in August in the pre-West End run, Fox berated the new director, Bob Carlton, in the stalls in front of the audience during the interval. Over the next two days Carlton, best known for directing the musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, was sacked, rehired and sacked again when, it is said, he refused to shake hands with Fox. Mrs Fox at first sided with Carlton. With her support, Carlton banned Fox from the theatre and, in a moment of high drama that she now says has been exaggerated in the telling, she informed her husband that if Carlton went it was the end of their marriage.

Insiders say that, despite the ban, Fox continued to burst in, saying: "Bob, Bob, can I just have some input here?" When Carlton finally left, Fox brought in an old friend, Michael Rooney, the son of Mickey Rooney, to direct. But he had no work permit and after complaints to Equity about Fox's methods the union contacted the Home Office to block an emergency permit. Two other senior members of the production departed with Carlton. Rooney, stranded in Paris, tried to direct the musical on the telephone for a few days but had to give it up as a bad job. Fox says he tried to appoint himself as a temporary director "but Equity would not allow it". The cast was in disarray.

One of the stars, Nichola McAuliffe, said in a newspaper column that the preparations were dogged by endless changes and rewrites, "hissy fits" and actors struggling to learn salsa. The rehearsals were "like a motorway pile-up", she said, predicting that the show would be slaughtered by the critics if it ever reached the West End.

But Fox is a determined man. He cancelled a week of London previews, brought in the two artistic advisers, the actor Murray Melvin who starred in the 1966 film Alfie, and Philip Gault, an experienced company manager, and against considerable odds had a run of previews at the Savoy this week. Performances have been two-thirds full and the only minor catastrophe was one show that was halted for 20 minutes when the actor Michael Clark bashed his head on stage and gushed blood.

Critics will have their say next week and Fox is confident. "We have a show to knock everyone's socks off," he said. Mrs Fox said: "We have been through hell, pure unadulterated hell. The cast were freaked out, depressed. But now everybody is happy and we have arrived in London with the best cast that anybody could have." Did they nearly divorce? "Things were said," Mrs Fox admits. "It was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. You could call it temporary insanity. After this whole nightmare I think we have a better marriage."

It's A Shambles, It's Mad, It's A Hit

By Charles Spencer

10 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 Telegraph Group Limited, London. All rights reserved.

The Sunday Telegraph

Murderous Instincts savoy theatre

The vultures have been circling over this "salsa comedy murder mystery" for weeks now, and who can blame them for expecting a particularly juicy piece of theatrical carrion? This, after all, is the show memorably described by its leading lady, Nichola McAuliffe, as "a motorway pile-up" waiting to happen, while three directors have been hired - and fired - en route to the London opening. One of them, denied a work permit in Britain, tried to direct by phone from Paris. Uniquely in my experience, the show finally arrives at the Savoy without any director being credited at all, just two "artistic advisers", Murray Melvin and Syd Ralph, parachuted in at the last minute in a final attempt to save the day. The American producer presiding over this mayhem is the septuagenarian Manny Fox, who cheerfully describes himself as being "mad as a box of frogs". Oh, and the show has a book and lyrics by his own wife, Cinda Fox, though apparently divorce was threatened during an acrimonious row, played out in front of the audience during the interval of a preview performance, when one of the directors was publicly sacked. Needless to say, the show itself can't quite compete with the backstage drama. But Murderous Instincts is still one of the most fabulously bonkers musicals I have ever witnessed, and infinitely more fun than those deeply disappointing heavyweight contenders, The Woman in White and Brighton Rock.

The action is set in a mansion in Puerto Rico, where the malign old rum-tycoon Bradley Buckingham has recently shuffled off this mortal coil. His widow, Edwina, is hitting the hard stuff big-time, and her children, Colin and Lauren, are appalled to discover that she is to be the sole beneficiary of his will. When Edwina suddenly disappears, the satanically bearded Colin is suspected of killing her, cueing a hilarious song that goes "Corpse, corpse, where did you hide the corpse?" One of the evening's special pleasures is that you are often unsure whether the laughs are deliberate or merely the result of incompetence and sweaty desperation. Skeletons keep tumbling out of closets - Lauren (Natalie O'Donnell) ditched her black musician boyfriend as a teenager and had an abortion in Paris, while strait-laced, married Colin (Arvid Larsen) is having a passionate affair with an outrageous pink-suited homosexual, who brings the house down with a song called "It's so much fun to be gay". "I'm bisexual but it doesn't mean I'm a bad person," Colin insists to his appalled wife. "No, just greedy," she replies tartly. The music by Alberto Carrion is an attractive blend of brassy up-tempo Latin-Americana and soaring power ballads. By the time the family's uptight English butler has revealed that he writes best-selling romantic novels under a woman's name, the family lawyer has confessed to an affair with the dead paterfamilias, and a missing son, posing as a homeless derelict, has revealed his true identity, one is scraping one's jaw off the floor with frankly incredulous delight. As the widow Edwina, Nichola McAuliffe storms on like a Spanish-accented Piaf, with touches of the pantomime dame, Norma Desmond and Edith Evans. She sings with lung-busting power, while constantly signalling a mischievous ironic detachment from the shambles in which she finds herself. And, once the lunatic plot has been wrapped up, the show ends with a prolonged salsa knees-up. The vultures may have to feast elsewhere. With a fair wind, this heroically preposterous show could well become the surprise hit of the season. Tickets: 0870 164 8787

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