Filling the role of Rhett Butler in the new musical production of Gone With The Wind was “a nail biter” for producer Aldo Scrofani. While Jill Paice had been a prospect for the role of Scarlett O’Hara since she took part in a workshop for the show over four years ago, the production team still hadn’t found a suitable Rhett two weeks before rehearsals started.
“We had been looking for our Rhett for over two years,” said Scrofani, speaking at the after show party at the Waldorf Hilton following the show’s opening night. “We had talked with Mr [Hugh] Jackman for a while, who was very, very interested, but he has a very busy film career.”
Danesh was encouraged to audition by the show’s musical supervisor Gareth Valentine. “Darius walked in, and at six foot four he physically looks exactly as Margaret Mitchell had described Rhett would be. He came in and sang two songs, he was just sensational,” commented Scrofani.
An eclectic assortment of stars including Joan Collins, Ben Elton and McFly were in attendance at the opening night of Gone With The Wind at the New London to see Danesh embody the role made famous by Clark Gable in the 1939 film, alongside leading lady Paice as Southern belle Scarlett.
Danesh was looking very much the deep south gent on his arrival at the after show party, wearing a dark suit with cravat, slicked back hair and a carefully trimmed moustache, grown for the role. In fact, Danesh told Official London Theatre, he has been quite taken by the idea of “gentlemanly pursuits” as depicted in the 1860s-set story. “It’s great, it’s old school. I’ve fallen into a love of Jack Daniels and cigars and so it’s something that I’ve embraced in the fuller sense. The ‘tache is absolutely only a necessity for the character, not one that I would have chosen otherwise!”
Danesh said he was “pinching himself” to believe he was the star of a Trevor Nunn-directed West End musical at his opening night party. “I was an English literature student at Edinburgh University and I used to save up to get train tickets and flights down to London and Stratford and to anywhere that he [Nunn] directed a play, and I can’t actually believe that I’m working with him, I really can’t; I’m absolutely over the moon.”
Co-star Paice, an Ohio-born actress who played Laura Fairlie in Nunn’s production of The Woman In White, had a more leisurely route into the show. “I’d say I’ve always been in love with Gone With The Wind since I was 10 years old and first saw the film. And when this opportunity fell into my lap to do the workshop [in 2004] I thought it was a one-off and of course they’d have to go hire some starlet to come in and play the role. But somehow I’ve managed to come through and I can’t thank our producers and Trevor Nunn enough to have this opportunity.”
Wearing an elegant floor-length embroidered white gown, the diminutive Paice looked every inch the starlet, and said she was enjoying being swept off her feet by her leading man. “I don’t want to gush over him but he’s such a gentleman,” she said of Danesh. “He has a wonderful energy; he just comes into work every day ready to go. I’m just fascinated by his process because he doesn’t come from an acting background and yet he’s a terrific actor because he has natural instincts. So it’s just been wonderful to watch him grow and to flourish.”
Writer Margaret Martin said she felt like “one of the luckiest and most blessed people on God’s Earth” to see her show come to fruition after 10 years in the making. With no prior experience of writing for the stage, sociologist Martin saw her idea for a stage musical of Gone With The Wind be taken up by director Nunn after she read an interview with him in the Los Angeles Times. “In that interview he said he had a personal passion for American history in general, and the American Civil War and the civil rights movement in particular. He also said he wasn’t afraid of grappling with raw human emotion. I read this interview – I had just got the rights [to adapt the story], I’d been working on this project for four years – and I thought, this is a letter. He’s written me a letter and it’s been delivered via the LA Times. I got in touch with him and two and a half weeks later I had a letter in my mail box. Two months after that…he agreed to direct it.”
But translating Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel to the stage wasn’t always smooth sailing. Producer Scrofani commented: “Well I have to say there were times where I wasn’t sure that we could actually do it. There were times when I just thought I don’t know how we can make Gone With The Wind, which is in so many ways not just an epic but it’s of epic proportions in people’s memories and we had to live up to all of it.”
One memory Danesh manages to match is that of Gable’s Rhett planting a good old-fashioned Hollywood kiss on Scarlett. “He sweeps me into his arms and I’m the luckiest girl on the planet!” said recipient Paice, before confirming: “He’s an excellent kisser!”
Gone With The Wind is booking at the New London until 27 September 2008.