No din-dins for Blanche in Baby Jane's comeback

The stage version of a classic film must cut `cult' lines, writes Vanessa Thorpe
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A NEW musical version of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, expected to make its West End debut next year, will be seen on stage only if the producers agree to jettison some of the best-loved dialogue from the film.

Vindictive taunts such as "Eat your din-dins, Blanche," first made famous by Bette Davis in the 1962 screen version, will now all have to go, according to Warner Brothers, which still owns the rights to the screenplay.

The musical, which is to star Millicent Martin as the violent and unstable Baby Jane, finishes a short, concert-style "try out" run in Brighton this weekend. The trial was designed to give both audiences and potential financial backers a taste of the full production. Like the film (and the original novel on which the film was based), the show tells the story of two ageing sisters who live in seclusion in a Hollywood mansion. The elder, Jane Hudson, was once a child star of the vaudeville stage, but by the time we meet the Hudson duo her fame has long since been eclipsed by that of her younger, prettier sister, Blanche, the character played by Joan Crawford in Robert Aldrich's screen version.

A heavy quotient of black humour and faded glamour quickly helped transform the film into a cult movie. As a result, at the Theatre Royal in Brighton, it was clear that many of those taking their seats were looking forward to hearing their favourite vitriolic lines. A whoop of delight, for instance, followed the moment when the wheelchair-bound Blanche reasons with her sister: "But you wouldn't treat me like this if I wasn't in a chair," only to be reminded: "But y'are, Blanche, y'are," by her ever-loving sister.

The musical project has been a long time in preparation. With a book by Henry Farrell, author of the original novel, and music and lyrics by the musical veterans Lee Popkriss and Hal Hackady, the team has been waiting in the wings for eight years.

"The delay is due to the whole question of the rights," said Ms Martin, who made her name singing on television's satirical That Was The Week That Was in the 1960s. "It is a pity that has taken a while, but on the other hand it has given us the chance to get things absolutely right. It takes time to feel your way into a part."

For the Brighton performances, Ms Martin, who knows the film version well, used a sprinkling of the Davis dialogue to see how it went down. "It was obvious from the reception that the audience liked the funnier, cruel lines," she said. "I am sure Henry Farrell will be able to write us some new ones."

But will Baby Jane aficionados be satisfied with freshly-minted dialogue? After all, among fans the film is watched rather in the way that the Rocky Horror Picture Show is, with a series of set responses and reverently observed audience participation.

One experienced member of the audience in Brighton is convinced the show will be a big success. "It has wonderful dancing and singing, and a great star in the lead role," said Dame Vera Lynn, who had travelled to the south coast especially to see Ms Martin as Baby Jane.