So ladies, will the new Mr Darcy really make you swoon?
Striding out of the Lagan in a wet shirt, it's the Lyric's version of literature's hottest leading man
Published 05/09/2013 | 01:30
Knees will quiver and hearts are set to beat a little faster – Mr Darcy is in town.
Arguably the most enduring love story in literature, the Jane Austen classic Pride And Prejudice has just opened at Belfast's Lyric Theatre.
Now former EastEnders actor Neal McDermott will take on the iconic – and daunting – role of Mr Darcy in this musical version.
Daunting because of lasting memories of the role made famous by Colin Firth's water-soaked appearance in the popular BBC television series.
Neal (32) ramped up (female) audience expectations yesterday with a photoshoot on the banks of the River Lagan, recreating the scene that is a pop culture classic.
That scene, which has notched up over 3.5 million YouTube views and loved by women – and some men – across the world, will not actually be replicated in the stage version.
In fact, it never actually happened in Jane Austen's most loved novel as it approaches the 200th anniversary of the novelist's death.
And before fans get the wrong idea, the musical's leading man, who played Ryan Malloy in the soap, is a happily married father of two young children.
"My wife is coming over next week but with a toddler and a six-month old baby, I'm not sure if she's that overly impressed with me as Mr Darcy," joked Neal, who recently appeared as Lord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical in London.
"The story of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bennet is probably the best known love story after Romeo and Juliet and I'm honoured to play it, especially in a musical."
The actor revealed that he had watched the two more recent performances of Mr Darcy, Colin Firth's acclaimed TV role and Matthew Macfadyen in the movie starring Keira Knightley.
"It's a massive challenge and I've big shoes to fill," he admits, "so while I've stole bits from them, I will be trying to make the character my own."
One of his most dramatic moments comes at the end of the first half with his singing of the song 'If It Be So' when Lizzie haughtily turns down his marriage proposal.
Adapted as a musical for the first time in the British Isles, Pride and Prejudice has already received rave reviews when it first opened in Cork recently.
Neal plays a "passionate and intense" Darcy opposite Elizabeth Bennet, played by Hazel Gardner of The Sound of Music fame, as the production combines the best of national and local theatre talent.
The musical score is from Mark Dougherty, with an elegant set designed by Londonderry man Robin Peoples and directed by the Lyric's Artistic Director Richard Croxford.