Jill Paice and Darius Danesh
(© Dan Wooller)
Jill Paice and Darius Danesh
(© Dan Wooller)
It wasn't exactly a "Be My Valentine" moment, but a touch of Romeo and Juliet was in the air when Darius Danesh presented a red rose to Jill Paice on a balcony outside a South London rehearsal room just as rehearsals had begun for the new Trevor Nunn-directed musical adaptation of the classic love story by Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, which will begin performances on April 3 at the New London Theatre.

Indeed, the romantic chemistry was clearly developing between the two stars cast as tempestuous lovers Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. "I've watched the film and I can say that this wonderful stage adaptation is going to have all the passion that we are used to seeing on celluloid," says Danesh. "It's going to bring the story to the stage in a way that I think is honest and highlights Scarlett and Rhett as survivors, joined not just by love but the fact that they are outsiders thrown together during the incredible backdrop of the American Civil War."

"We're taking our interpretation from the original novel, so those who have read it hopefully will see the similarities," explains Paice, whose originated the role of Laura Fairlie in Nunn's production of The Woman in White and most recently starred on Broadway in Curtains. "I don't find anything wrong with taking on some of the things that Vivian Leigh presented on screen either -- she was so talented and I always admired her."

Danesh, whose previous West End appearances were in Chicago and Guys and Dolls but who first achieved fame as a singer-songwriter on Pop Idol, says he put recording his third album on hold as soon as he was cast as Rhett and is already relishing taking on the iconic role of the ultimate man's man. "Rhett is a great challenge, but that's partly relieved by the fact that we are absolutely being faithful to the novel and its themes of war and redemption and by having a director like Trevor," he says.

"This is an ensemble piece and really is a breakthrough in terms of staging," he adds. "In fact, one of the most incredible stages you have ever seen in London or on Broadway is being constructed at the New London Theatre as we speak. In that sense I am not worried at all about finding depth in the role of Rhett. I'm just focused on enjoying every minute and being very dedicated to the process of giving our best."

"I understand people might think, 'Oh, my gosh, Gone with the Wind as a musical?'" adds Paice. "But I can assure you it's going to be a fabulous evening. It's still an epic story, but a lot of it is going to be left to the imagination -- a wonderful imagination."

For more on Gone With the Wind and other London theater, visit www.whatsonstage.com.