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Featured Carsten Walachei Berdjansk FreierSebastian Hauptkirche

"Shakespeare is a great projection screen"

Two elderly boys, 55 and 52 years old, on whose faces the not always funny pop life has milled some not uninteresting marks, are sitting in Berlin's Paris Bar and alternately clinging to a salt shaker.

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"Shakespeare is a great projection screen"

Two elderly boys, 55 and 52 years old, on whose faces the not always funny pop life has milled some not uninteresting marks, are sitting in Berlin's Paris Bar and alternately clinging to a salt shaker. It's their most important tool right now. Because then it's clear who of the two guys who can't keep the water of speech in an absolutely stunning way is now in charge.

However, they don't really follow their own rule. Doesn't matter. The sentences jump like ping-pong balls across the white tablecloth: a rapid give and take that impressively shows how symbiotic this team still works. Although Peter Plate and Ulf Leo Sommer have not been a couple for a long time. But you have to get that right first.

Little flashback. What a good run and an even better time the two of them, who still look right in jeans, sneakers and bomber jackets, are having right now can be experienced particularly authentically in a cramped rehearsal room at the Theater des Westens. The banners of their musical "Ku'damm 56", which came out in November 2021 and whose last performances are currently running, are still hanging outside. Inside, the new piece is being rehearsed: “Romeo

Shakespeare and one of the great Rosenstolz hits, the percussive half of which was once Peter Plate, in one title line, that seems quite possible, even if only one, but crucial scene is being rehearsed here. It is also the only borrowing from the past, otherwise the score is a 22-song original by Plate and Sommer, just as the Elizabethan bard has his say in German in the classic Schlegel/Tieck translation.

Father Lorenzo has just found out that his letter about Juliet's sleeping pills missed Romeo. "I'm sorry," chants his actor in training pants, as all the others, joining the choir, stride towards him on the revolving stage, which is only being played. Juliet's alleged funeral procession with the Capulet couple and the nurse at the head, from the other direction comes the tall Romeo, who is still reading his text from his smartphone, along with his best friend Benvolio. In the mourning hymn, the ensemble simultaneously unites in a grand sound gesture.

That's how musicals work. And the two creators, who still see themselves as theater amateurs, although they have long been savvy professionals, are as happy as snow kings. On the right on the piano is a box with very sugary nerve food, from the left comes Plate's niece, who - here everything is family - acts as a production assistant, with fresh coffee mugs. There is little but effective correction, only fine-tuning is required, everything fits together relatively casually.

Later, as the two share shrimp as an appetizer, Peter Plate recounts, "We have to rewind 33 years. I was 19 and Ulf 22. It was his first visit to the West and my first contact to the East, I was actually still in a relationship. We just talked about Abba's 'Chess' all night after we had sex because it was always my dream to do a musical. When I was 17 in Goslar, I wrote a musical myself for a school performance. Ulf had an acting school place in Leipzig. In 1998 we flew to New York for the first time, watched 'Rent' as dumb tourists and were blown away. We fell madly in love, that was ours – drama, music and live.”

But there was still the third, AnNa R., with whom they had been on the road since 1991 as one of the most successful German-singing music duos. Their exalted, absolutely soulful style was called “sophisticated pop”. Pop was the life of the three of them, but musical was the real calling of the two boys. They just hadn't dared yet.

"We've gone on a lot of other shows since then," Plate continues, "going to New York every two years to see new plays. With Anna we never thought about musicals. But somehow we slipped through the gay scene and the cabaret scene into larger pop shows, and then they were just staged. 'Eduard', 'Magnetic', 'I'll never get a soubrette', those are drama songs, of course. People should laugh and cry, also in the videos.”

In 2012, Peter Plate suffered a massive burnout, Rosenstolz was put on hold, and the male couple separated. Ulf Leo Sommer wants to move to Barcelona and rent apartments, Peter Plate falls in love with his current husband in London, stays for a year, but realizes that he has no business there because he can only write in German. After all, he learns to fight his claustrophobia in the narrow tube. In the industry, the two were considered old and written off after 19 years of Rosenstolz.

That didn't bother her, because she still had enough plans. At first nothing rang, then "Bibi and Tina" came to the rescue, film music for Detlev Buck, who you had known for a long time. They first had to grow into this commissioned work, just as they did into songs for Sarah Connor and others.

"It didn't start that easily," Plate recalls. “We had to pay tuition. We were very green, we were completely screwed, we made a huge loss. Then we met Romeo and Juliet for the first time. In Kiel, summer theater, very charming. Director Daniel Karasek incorporated eight songs into the play. And we had tasted blood, but we already realized that it's not that easy. Our music had to be both a showstopper and a driver, suddenly it has a precise function.”

At some point they ended up in the Theater des Westens. Ulf Leo Sommer: "Annette Hesse, creator and screenwriter of 'K'udamm', was an acquaintance. There were also BMG connections. We were then asked directly by them, BMG/Ufa people had the idea with Annette at a party. We said yes straight away. Because we had just seen 'Ku'damm' on television, independently of one another."

Peter Plate grabs the salt shaker: "We still live on the same floor in Charlottenburg and often meet in the elevator. We didn't have to be persuaded because it's dream material - the dance school, great women in leading roles. Rock'n'Roll was horrible at first, but we emancipated ourselves and found our own music."

Peter holds on to the spreader: “We are beginners. We play with open cards and absorb all knowledge. Michael Kunze once gave us a mini workshop for an afternoon, which was really nice. As a music/lyric poet, one is often just pasted on like that. That's why we have to be bosses, we need complete artistic freedom. And Annette, who many consider very tough, who ticks like us - that was very easy. I didn't think I'd be friends with someone like that at my age."

Ulf takes over: "It's a great gift that we can now do it like this. We want to be involved in everything. We are control freaks. The show is the supreme discipline. We made something that will be reproduced at some point, we take it to Munich, for example, or it will be staged anew. And lives on like that. It may also improve because the process is ongoing. This is an adventure.”

Salads and entrecôtes are there, but there is hardly any food, Ulf Leo Sommer talked himself into flow: "I only now know what it takes for a musical like this to really float. So it was right to wait a little longer, to acquire more and more know-how here and there, with many encounters that were ultimately logical. And we're as happy as children when we go to the Theater des Westens here. We are huge fans of Helmut Baumann.”

The coffee comes, the shaker is back with Peter: “In the nineties we didn't have any money for the TdW visits. We were there for the first time in 1998 at a benefit concert, Helmut showed us through the house as artistic director, he was completely uncomplicated, I still cry to this day. And 25 years later there is a letter from him at the porter asking for a premiere ticket for our play! But you can't turn back the clock, we have to do our thing there today."

“Ku’damm 56” had a budget of two million euros. His fan club mixes with Rosenstolz supporters, yes, love is everything. And the Theater des Westens, leased from BMG until at least the end of 2024, is their toy. Now comes "Romeo", with the same creative team with its own in-house improv office. "Ku'damm" will return, even continued, the casting calls are already out. Annette Hess is already on a fourth ZDF season.

They're both pretty calm so close to the premiere. The main work is done, Ulf comes to rehearsals more often than Peter. Although he is much less cerebral, looks at everything through the eyes of the audience. If he is needed, he leaves everything and rushes to the Zoo train station. You have to talk to everyone, get feedback. Ulf is confident: "We can't read notes, but we're totally pedantic that it sounds like it's written. We're the showrunners here."

And Peter knows: “Sex at twenty, we can feel into it, like with Romeo and Juliet, we had that ourselves. But no longer in a new, young pop artist. Others have to do that now. Where we are now, we're in the right place.” Ulf speaks to the salt vessel: “Shakespeare is a great projection screen, everything from baroque to hip-hop goes there. We went back to the original. It should entertain and serve a message without pointing fingers. Shakespeare still does that best.”

They have been in love with the topic since 2014, and it has popped up again and again for 500 years, always with its own footprint. For them old bastards, the Baz Luhrman version is sacred, it's their MTV days. The boys don't know that anymore. But love, sex and death, that's great stuff to let off steam musically. And her twist now is, for example, that Mercutio is gay, that can almost be deduced from Shakespeare.

Ulf Leo Sommer sees another problem: "'Romeo' doesn't have enough women, so they got more songs, especially the wet nurse. And our Julia is not so passive, more Pippi Longstocking."

They have big plans for the still brilliant Theater des Westens: "It should shine with a schedule of original plays with shorter running times," enthuses Sommer. "We want to use the mirror foyer, the bar could be open longer. Berliners should fall in love with this theater again.”

"Bibi" is also touring through Germany again, they will write a new story. They do that in the summer because they know their way around. They like to slip in something new for Annette Humpe or Max Raabe. Otherwise, her next two-year schedule is full, including time off.

Last words? Peter: “I'm happier, I'm in the wings, making things work. Ulf is a dramaturg, I'm a good producer. And the best thing is still when we write music and lyrics. Nobody is good at everything. Tonight I'm looking at a new cast of Monika in 'Ku'damm', I'm going to get completely involved with it."

The very last salt shaker replacement for Ulf: "You become more relaxed as you get older, with Rosenstolz everything was always the end of the world straight away."

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