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
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The Independent Culture

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 Noël 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)