As Cameron Mackintosh acknowledged the current downturn in the West End, a new cast readied itself for its officially opening tonight, 17 July 2001 (following previews from 1 July), in a revamped version of his musical, The Witches of Eastwick. Led by Clarke Peters, the new-look Witches hopes to buck the trend of musical closures and dwindling audiences.

American Peters takes over as Darryl Van Horne in the story about three bored New England witches who brew up a storm of trouble in the form of a devilishly mysterious lover. He's joined by new witches Josefina Gabrielle (as Alexandra) and Rebecca Thornhill (as Sukie) as well as Olivier Award nominee Joanna Riding (as Jane), who remains from the original cast.

Peters, an accomplished singer and dancer, is well known for his show Five Guys Named Moe, which he conceived, as well as other West End musicals such as Chicago and Guys and Dolls. Gabrielle's credits include the National's Oklahoma! and Chicago, while Thornhill was seen most recently in Singin' in the Rain - based on the John Updike novel and the 1987 Hollywood film - opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on in July 2000 before transferring to the smaller Prince of Wales Theatre this past March. Changes to the show include the removal of the number "Who's the Man" and new lyrics for another song, "Loose Ends".

In an interview with London's Evening Standard yesterday, Mackintosh admitted that the West End was suffering. "There is no doubt margins have been hit on a lot of shows," he said. "Apart from three or four big smash hits, it is true that in the summer most shows have a downturn." He went on to say that theatres were not alone in feeling the pinch. "Everyone has suffered; shops and hotels."

The Witches of Eastwick has book and lyrics by John Dempsey and Dana Rowe. It is directed by Eric Schaeffer, designed by Bob Crowley and choreographed by Bob Avian and Stephen Mear with orchestrations by William D Brohn, musical supervision by David Caddick, sound design by Andrew Bruce and lighting design by Howard Harrison.

- by Terri Paddock