Impresario's murderous instincts kill off show after just a week five days in

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The Independent Culture

The "salsa-comedy-murder-mystery" in the West End of London has seen more drama behind the scenes than on stage. And yesterday the troubles at Murderous Instincts reached a climax. After a string of sackings, resignations and arguments, and rehearsals reminiscent of a "motorway pile-up", it was announced yesterday that it will close after only a handful of performances.

The "salsa-comedy-murder-mystery" in the West End of London has seen more drama behind the scenes than on stage. And yesterday the troubles at Murderous Instincts reached a climax. After a string of sackings, resignations and arguments, and rehearsals reminiscent of a "motorway pile-up", it was announced yesterday that it will close after only a handful of performances.

The musical, which opened last Thursday at the Savoy Theatre, will close tomorrow despite a scheduled run until January, after the disappearance of its producer and writer.

The main protagonist has emerged as Manny Fox, the septuagenarian cigar-chomping Broadway impresario who was responsible for producing the play.

It was on Tuesday morning that he called startled theatre staff from the airport to say he was returning home to Puerto Rico with his wife, Cinda, the Firestone Tyres heiress who wrote the play. Yesterday an e-mail informed staff that the £2m production was to close.

As the news filtered down among actors, creatives and production staff, there was anger at the way in which the couple had treated them. There were also fears that they would not get paid. Nichola McAuliffe, who plays the female lead, said: "Words cannot express how I feel about these two people and the total contempt and lack of respect they have shown us.

"The way I see it is that Manny Fox had the most expensive top-of-the range Hornby train set and he put his foot right through it."

Setting a "salsa-comedy-murder-mystery" on a West End stage was always going to be ambitious. The production ­ set in Puerto Rico ­ was loosely based on the life of Mrs Fox. It tells of a recently widowed wife of a rum tycoon and her adult children fighting over their inheritance.

A string of torrid family feuds is set against the backdrop of a Latino salsa tempo with choreography by the world salsa champion, Jhesus Aponte.

While the concept was based on a successful salsa night in Puerto Rico, the West End production swiftly became embroiled in controversy. The eighth director, Bob Carlton, who also directed the hit musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, was sacked by Mr Fox in front of the audience during a try-out in Norwich. This was followed by the departure of two other senior members of the production team.

Attempts to replace Mr Carlton with Michael Rooney, the son of Mickey, proved equally ill-fated. His application for an emergency work permit was blocked after representations to the Home Office from the actors' union Equity.

Rooney attempted to oversee the show from the end of a telephone line in Paris. That plan too had to be abandoned. Eventually, the production team made do with two "artistic advisers".

And when the production finally opened last week, its reviews were far from glowing. "Camp", "witless" and "unintelligible" were among the adjectives used by some of the more generous critics, many of whom recommended a stiff mojito cocktail before settling down to watch it.

Last night, McAuliffe, who plays Edwina in the show and previously starred in the West End production Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, described how those involved in the production were angry but unsurprised.

Speaking as she prepared to go on stage for one of her final performances, she said: "I wish I could say we are surprised that it's closing so early but I cannot tell you how angry we are at the way they have behaved."

McAuliffe had earlier described the problems that beset the production from the start, including rehearsals reminiscent of "a motorway pile-up". She spoke of endless changes and re-writes, actors unable to dance salsa, characters that didn't seem to fit the plot and a promotion poster that looked as though it had been made by a sixth-former.

She also implied that many of the problems appeared to stem from the larger-than-life personality of its now absent producer Mr Fox.

"[He] has a heart of gold, chews large cigars, wears a baseball cap and is, as he proudly proclaims, as mad as a box of frogs," she said.

No one was available for comment at the Savoy Theatre last night.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

'The Independent', Paul Taylor

"Could Murderous Instincts possibly be as entertaining onstage as it has been off? Well, the answer is: at times, damn nearly... Imbibe a few judicious mojitos first, and you could have a ball."

'The Guardian', Lyn Gardner

"Thoughts turn not to murder but to suicide during this misbegotten musical ... It is pure poison, although the last 10 minutes do offer a little emergency resuscitation for those of us who had considered ordering Kool-Aid and cyanide at the interval."

'Evening Standard', Nicholas de Jongh

"After exposure to the flamboyant ineptitude and boredom of Murderous Instincts, this musical has all the allure of a smash hit: a hit of the kind when several unroadworthy vehicles collide on a wild drive to West End glory."

'The Times', Sam Marlowe

"This farrago of a show has all the heat of a frozen margarita and all the suspense of a game of Cluedo. It's crude and not sufficiently daft to entertain even in a superficial way."

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