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Glamor and Decline of Musicals

A mill is turning, a huge elephant is standing at the top right.

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Glamor and Decline of Musicals

A mill is turning, a huge elephant is standing at the top right. Everything flashes and sparkles and sparkles. With the German premiere of "Moulin Rouge", the Cologne Musical Dome turned the big wheel. According to the organizers, the show including marketing cost around 17 million euros. There were also 4.5 million for the conversion of the theater. A hassle, as if there were no tomorrow.

In Duisburg, on the other hand, the former self-proclaimed musical stronghold, the completely different side of the business is evident: "'N Bit Peace" had just started with a lot of noise, now the operating company is already insolvent. All performances have been cancelled. Is "Moulin Rouge" threatened with a similar fate soon?

The makers go all out. In recent years - even before the pandemic - hardly any musical theater dared to run for long periods. Guest performances were sent around the country and could only be seen in one place for a few weeks. And now comes Cologne: "Moulin Rouge" should run "open end", tickets will be sold until summer 2023. The advertising campaign is huge. If you drive through Bochum, for example, you will see more posters for "Moulin Rouge" than for the local theater.

"We are ahead of our plans and expectations in terms of both pre-sales and occupancy," says producer Maik Klokow. Moulin Rouge is based on a 2001 film by Baz Luhrmann. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor starred, and the visuals and music provided an unbridled sensory rush. And Cologne can really keep up. Right at the beginning, an energetic mix of dance and well-known pop songs gets the audience cheering. 75 songs from 160 years of music history, including a funny bow to German hits. This mix is ​​stylishly intoned by a great band led by musical expert Heribert Feckler.

The special thing about "Moulin Rouge": There is the big show, but also emotionality and humor. In 1900, the colorful group of the Moulin Rouge was looking for a sponsor. The beautiful Satine, the star of the house, is supposed to ensnare the very rich Duke of Monroth and take the francs out of his pocket. But she falls in love with the poor English writer Christian. Although he can write wonderful love poems, he cannot save the legendary club from bankruptcy.

The story draws on many well-known elements from 19th-century literature and opera. Satine has tuberculosis and is terminally ill, but still doesn't want to let her friends down. The painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who himself died in 1901 at the age of only 36, appears in person. However, as a writer and director, he writes the play that the nasty duke is supposed to finance. The nobleman is reminiscent of today's "MeToo" protagonists. He thinks he can buy anything, the Moulin Rouge as well as Satine.

The musical lasts less than three hours. Including a long break for culinary delights and selfie ecstasies in front of glamor facades and at the end an overwhelmingly choreographed applause order. This is rather scarce compared to similarly opulent newer pieces. And obeys the old theatrical wisdom to send the audience home well fed, but not overeaten. If a musical has a chance to make money and become a tourist attraction for years to come, it's "Moulin Rouge". Next to the unstoppable "Starlight Express" in Bochum, of course.

But why did the premiere of "'N bit of peace" in Duisburg fail so mercilessly? It was a rush job, planned for the summer and implemented spontaneously. The audience had no way of knowing that the show still seemed very unfinished during the dress rehearsal. In order to produce a successful musical, it takes a long time to prepare and a sophisticated advertising strategy. Also, it's unclear what to expect. Some expect a Schlager revue and are disappointed when the Ralph Siegel hits don't come along with the title song. Others don't go because they fear a hit revue. With "Moulin Rouge" you know what you're getting. And won't be disappointed either.

Many theaters are currently suffering from the reluctance of the audience due to the many crises. The longing for great experiences is still there. "Moulin Rouge" conveys the feeling that you're missing out on something if you haven't seen this piece with its glamor and the "advertising pressure" - as Maik Klokow puts it. "However, whether a show is successful in the end," says the producer, "is entirely dependent on whether the audience loves the show - and that's with 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' obviously and to our delight the case."

The flop in Duisburg is dramatic in several respects. Composer Ralph Siegel bears 45 percent of the costs because he dreams of not only being perceived as a hit king. Now, in addition to the bankruptcy, his cancer has broken out again. And the ensemble doesn't appear to have been paid, even for rehearsals. Actress Jennifer Siemann wrote on Instagram: "The production didn't even register me with my health insurance company." And she found clear and critical words that are rarely heard in the musical business: "I will strictly reject future work with the producer Wolfgang DeMarco." DeMarco In 2019, he had already screwed up the musical "Wallace" about the Scottish freedom fighter, whose life was filmed in "Braveheart".

In Cologne, however, there is great optimism. Eight shows per week are planned. "It's not just a show," beams producer Maik Klokow, "but transports an attitude to life, a longing and the willingness to get involved with big feelings. None of the previous shows played in Cologne had the potential that this production entails.” He wants to be in the black by the end of next year at the latest. And break a few attendance records by then.

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