Theatre: Nine, Donmar Warehouse, London

Nine, Donmar Warehouse, London, WC2 (0171-369 1732) In preview, opens Thur
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The Independent Culture
You know the trouble with Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan? They just won't listen. You or I could tell them that remaking George Cukor's camp, comic celluloid classic The Women is a dumb idea - if it ain't broke, don't fix it - but off they go, when any sane person would much rather watch Joan Crawford's cheap shopgirl behind the perfume counter, Rosalind Russell talking a mile a minute or Norma Shearer learning about men at the beauty parlour.

At last Julia and Meg are creating jobs for the girls. Arthur Kopit did the same when turning Fellini's 81/2 into a musical. Hang on... making a musical out of this cinematic milestone sounds like cause for the "if it ain't broke..." clause, but the result, Nine, ran 732 performances on Broadway and won a Tony for Best Musical in 1982.

Raul Julia played the lead on Broadway. In London, it's Larry Lamb. Apart from a quick croon to Janet Suzman in The Sisters Rosenzweig, this is his professional musical debut. He's surrounded by serious vocal talent, from Sara Kestelman - fresh from success in Sarrasine - to the sweet- toned Eleanor David and the explosive belt of Ria Jones, but he's quietly confident. When asked to play the film director and lothario Guido Contini, he listened to the recording and thought "I could do that... or at least have a bloody good go."

Lamb is the least "actory" of actors, but he's waxing unusually lyrical about this, singing its praises as "a piece of grown- up theatre. Rarely have I felt so inspired by something". He's also in thrall to director David Leveaux who has not only pruned the show of its cheap gags and innuendo, but delayed any kind of full run-through until late in the fifth week of rehearsal. "We were all terrified, performing it in front of the powers that be, but it was extraordinary. Afterwards, we were all a bit stunned. Everyone felt we could have gone straight in front of an audience."

The last time this venue produced a musical, they ended up with Company. Do you need any further incentive?

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