This ex­pe­ri­ence of sit­ting in the dark, with a group of ac­tors, de­sign­ers and cre­ative peo­ple do­ing a show es­pe­cially for you, it just can’t be copied.”

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

vet­eran de­sign­ers and di­rec­tors to work with rec­og­nized ac­tors from Broad­way and West End.

The con­cert has be­come an es­tab­lished brand among Shang­hai’s mu­si­cal lovers so that once the box of­fice opened, “a ticket was sold ev­ery eight sec­onds,” Fei said.

A con­cert is more “ex­e­cutable, or “op­er­a­ble”, he said, than a full-length mu­si­cal play. In a ma­ture mar­ket such as Broad­way, a mu­si­cal is re­garded suc­cess­ful af­ter 100 to 200 per­for­mances, while in China, no theater show has had such vi­tal­ity yet.

Fei an­tic­i­pated that in five years’ time maybe, China’s mar­ket will be strong enough for residential mu­si­cal per­for­mances that will go on for years, “when those born in the 1980s be­come the ma­jor­ity of China’s mid­dle class pop­u­la­tion.”

The whole Asian mar­ket for mu­si­cal theater has de­vel­oped rapidly in the past decades. In China, the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the mar­ket has al­lured heavy in­vest­ment in the live theater in­dus­try, es­pe­cially mu­si­cal theater.

There have been dozens of orig­i­nal Chi­nese mu­si­cals, and more are on the way, each with a pro­duc­tion cost of tens of mil­lions yuan. Tiny Times, a novel by young celebrity au­thor Guo Jing­ming, has been made into an ex­tremely prof­itable film fran­chise, and lately a mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion has been made. With its first round of shows staged in May, the mu­si­cal is un­der re­vi­sion, and hope­fully will tour to wider parts of China later this year.

An orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion Yip Man, which com­bines mu­si­cal theater with Chi­nese kungfu, is be­ing made in Shang­hai, and will have its pre­miere in Sin­ga­pore next year. Ac­cord­ing to the pro­ducer Wang Hong­ming, the play is aimed for the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

David Zhou is the pro­ducer who has in­tro­duced Ghost to China. He be­lieves the story has uni­ver­sal ap­peal, es­pe­cially the power of love that breaks the bound­ary be­tween life and death. “In tra­di­tional Chi­nese literature and folk­lore, we have lots of sto­ries about the love be­tween hu­man and ghosts, I think Chi­nese au­di­ences will love the story.”

Zhou be­came in­ter­ested in mu­si­cal theater in the 1990s, when he worked in a com­pany that made DVD. While the re­tail mar­ket was dom­i­nated by piracy at that time, Zhou and his col­leagues bought copy­right from in­ter­na­tional film and en­ter­tain­ment stu­dios, and sold these au­tho­rized DVDs in public book­stores and along­side with the DVD play­ers, with col­lab­o­ra­tion ar­ranged with the hard­ware pro­duc­ers.

He was the first to in­tro­duce a col­lec­tion of An­drew Lloyd Web­ber’s mu­si­cal cre­ations on DVD, and he even in­vested in a TV show, which sys­tem­at­i­cally in­tro­duced Broad­way mu­si­cals to au­di­ences in Shang­hai.

When he be­came in­volved in the busi­ness of live en­ter­tain­ment, he found the key part has re­mained the same as in the DVD busi­ness, which is in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, or copy­right.

It was pro­ducer Colin In­gram from Bri­tain who came up with the idea of adapt­ing the film Ghost from 1990, star­ring Demi Moore, Pa­trick Swayze and Whoopie Gold­berg for mu­si­cal theater. He was the one who con­vinced the orig­i­nal writer Bruce Joel Ru­bin to en­trust the story to him, and the film stu­dio to grant the right for adap­ta­tion. The pro­ducer then hired the writer and com­poser to work on the story, and worked on where mu­sic and songs could fit in with the sto­ry­telling.

There is a say­ing in the in­dus­try that goes “a song should de­liver 30 pages of di­a­logue”. They carry the emo­tional flow, and keep au­di­ences en­gaged and en­ter­tained. In Ghost, the mu­si­cal, all the songs were new com­po­si­tions by Dave Stewart and Glen Bal­lard, ex­cept for the golden hit Un­chained Melody by the Right­eous Broth­ers. That song, to­gether with the scene where the hero­ine played by Demi Moore was mak­ing pot­tery, was prob­a­bly the most un­for­get­table from the film.

The live theater pro­duc­tion has the pot­tery scene with Un­chained Melody, and still, they have to de­liver some­thing more than the film.

It is 25 years since the film came out, said In­gram in Shang­hai. He needed to present the story on a dif­fer­ent can­vas, of the mu­si­cal theater, and bring fresh feel­ings to make it at­trac­tive to young au­di­ences.

Il­lu­sion acts de­signed by pro­fes­sional ma­gi­cians helped to present how a ghost is trapped be­tween two worlds. When au­di­ences see the ac­tor walk­ing away while his dead body still seen ly­ing on the stage, they were be­mused; and they were ex­cited to see the ghost walk through a con­crete door, mov­ing things around with­out lay­ing his hand on it. These magic acts ap­peared a few times, as pow­er­ful tools to en­gage the au­di­ence and “to serve the story”, as In­gram, the pro­ducer, in­sisted, “we don’t want to make it a show about magic”.

The mu­si­cal theater has seen a grow­ing num­ber of pro­duc­tions adapted from films, In­gram ad­mit­ted. From Hair Spray to Billy El­liot, and now even 50 Shades of Grey al­ready has a mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion. In­gram him­self is work­ing on the adap­ta­tion of Back to the Fu­ture, a science-fic­tion movie from the 1990s.

A Broad­way pro­duc­tion can easily cost $15 mil­lion to $20 mil­lion to make. The theater adap­ta­tion of Spiderman cost $72 mil­lion to make, though the mu­si­cal has not turned out quite well re­ceived by the the­ater­go­ers.

The film will pro­vide some de­gree of re­as­sur­ance for in­vestors to make such a big com­mit­ment. In­gram said. Also, the film fran­chise has es­tab­lished brand aware­ness among the public, which also helps to build con­fi­dence for the live theater box of­fice.

This trend has brought new chal­lenges for theater work­ers, though. They have to keep com­ing up with new ideas to meet with the an­tic­i­pa­tions of to­day’s au­di­ences, who have seen it all, thanks to all the vis­ual ef­fects and com­puter graph­ics of the 21st Cen­tury: ex­plo­sion, space walk, su­per­heroes fly­ing be­tween sky­scrapers, you name it, they have seen it on the screen, big or small.

Theater pro­vides a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence though, as In­gram said. Theater has the ad­van­tage of build­ing emo­tional con­nec­tion with au­di­ences in a strange way. “It has more tools to make peo­ple cry, or laugh. This ex­pe­ri­ence of sit­ting in the dark, with a group of ac­tors, de­sign­ers and cre­ative peo­ple do­ing a show es­pe­cially for you, it just can’t be copied,” he added.

mu­si­cal theater pro­ducer based in Lon­don, Bri­tain


such as TheP­han­to­mofthe­Opera, have found their way into China’s the­aters. Not only Broad­way and West End pro­duc­tions are staged, but also Chi­nese edi­tions and orig­i­nal cre­ations are be­ing made.

Colin In­gram,

(left), an English mu­si­cal on tour in China this year, and the oth­ers from the Chi­nese edi­tion of Mam­maMia, which has had more than 400 shows in the past three years.

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