One of the events of the coming Moscow theatre season will be the opening in Moscow’s downtown of the Musical Theatre to be located in the cinema “Russia”, which is now known as “Pushkinsky” after the name of the square it sits on.
The cinema “Russia” operated in Moscow since 1961, regarded as this country’s chief cinema theatre and one of the biggest cinema halls in Europe (2057 seats). It is the home of the loudest Russian cinema premieres and the annual Moscow International Film Festival.
Last April Moscow authorities decided to make it a musical theatre. The Netherland’s company Stage Entertainment was chosen as its sub-contractor thanks to its great experience in staging musicals in Russia (“Cats”, “Mamma Mia!”, “Zorro”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Sound of Music.”)
It is presumed that without making changes to the basic constructions of the building, its interior will be totally remodeled. There will be a new stage with state-of-the art stage equipment and new interiors of the foyer and the hall.
The authors of the projects think that the transformation of this respectable cinema into a theatre of musicals may become an organic step towards formation of Moscow’s theatrical centre (given the closeness of the future theatre to the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre, the Moscow State Operetta Theatre, the Russian Academic Youth Theatre, Theatre of Nations, the Lenkom Theatre as well as the Theatre Centre “Na Strastnom”, owned by the Theatre Union of the Russian Federation.)
According to Dmitry Bogachev, general director of Russia’s Stage Entertainment:
Moscow still has a long way to go to meet the world standards, and it would be hard to peak of any kind of competition. About 50 big and small theatres on Broadway staging about thirty musicals. So will Moscow have its own “Broadway” is problematic. But looking at the map it can be seen that the capital’s centre is a genuine theatre quarter. And a look at the bills will discover that almost each theatre here stages some musical production if not a musical in its own right.
The fashion for the musical as an expensive intricate stage show with music, songs, choreography, different stage effects, casting well-known performers came to Russia a little more than ten years ago, when the Moscow State Operetta Theatre staged the musical “Metro.”
In 2002 the theatre presented the Russian version of “Notre-Dame de Paris” (music by Riccardo Cocciante with the book by Luc Plamondon.) The production had a phenomenal effect invariably with wall-to-wall halls, and its vocal numbers became great hits for Russian music lovers for several years.
The year 2002 was an unusual one for the history of the musical in Russia, both in terms of popularity and the degree of the tragic.
Alongside with “Notre-Dame de Paris” there appeared a genuinely Russian world-class musical “Nord-Ost.” The book was based on Veniamin Kaverin’s novel “The Two Captains” very popular in Russia with several films based on it (the show’s book, music and the production were by Aleksei Ivashchenko and George Vassiliev.) The production’s budget amounted to $4 million, and the performance was something to remember. Especially the scenes when a genuine heavy bomber landed on the stage right before the spectators or the floor began to cover with ice hummocks while a nose of a schooner rose slowly from under them….
For the first time in history after its first night the show was done every day similar to the Broadway-level shows and it was presumed that “Nord-Ost” would run for at least three years.
However, the plans were broken. On October 23, 2002 right in the middle of the show it was abruptly captured by a group of military terrorists who had kept 916 people hostage for three days in inhuman conditions.
In the course the investigation it was disclosed that choosing their planned attack, the terrorists had considered three attack points, including the Moscow State Variety Theatre then showing the musical “Chicago”, the Moscow Youth Palace that premiered with the musical “42 Street” (performed by their native language English-speaking actors) and the Theatre Centre in Dubrovka street showing “Nord-Ost.” In the end “Nord-Ost” was not of the most outstanding Russian musical, but rather a tragedy that cost its audience a tragedy worth 130 lives of both the spectators and show participants (the unofficial number is 174)
Lovers of the musical as a genre and theatre observers are united in the thinking that unless the Dubrovka events, the history of the Russian musical had followed a totally different way. Suffice it to say that at present Russia cannot boast of a single project equal to “Notre-Dame de Paris” or “Nord-Ost” in scope and quality.
There are many productions under the title of “musical” in Moscow and other Russian cities.
With a few exceptions every company has or plans to have on its bill a commercial show, similar to a musical.
The recipe of cooking a successful Russia musical is something that any even novice producer is aware of.
“You first choose a well-red literary book telling a crooked story with amorous desires, intrigues and adventure. You then a story of 50 pages or so on the main things just in case, pile a couple of two to three hot hits performed by the current pop stars, and not be avaricious to spend on the visual thing. The set, the costumes and special effects must be the highest quality possible. And after many hours of rehearsing magic music cocktail can be given to the spectator” (the recipe of the Russian-styled musical comes from the Russian Internet.)
A piece of such cookery might well be edible. Still, this year’s annual Russian theatre arts national prize The Golden Mask virtually failed to honor this genre. For the first time in 18 years of this competition embracing every theatre genres and types, its panel of judges did not give a single award in the nominations of “The Musical and Operetta” (with the best female/male role, the best director and the best production), regarding the level of the shown works inferior to any quality level.
Will the transformation of the biggest Moscow cinema theatre help the Russian capital offer Broadway-quality is a question to be answered. No one has yet discussed it with Moscow residents.
“To be quite frank, the news meant nothing to me,” Alelksandr Kalyagin, Chairman of Russia’s Theatre Union. “I’ll explain why. By and large, it’s good to have many different theatre buildings in this country. I’m all for diversity. But we are now trying to set a foot into the genre we are very far from now, the musical. It’s about the same distance very that is so far from US companies that are far from the traditions of drama theatres. I see that the musical is in demand and that is good. In our theatre Et Cetera we have staged the musical “The Producers,” and it brings us success. But thinking about “Russia” cinema I still do not know if it’s good or not so for it to become a theatre of musicals.”
Good or not so will be clear next autumn before the end of the work that is still ahead at the Moscow’s central cinema theatre, whose first debut night is slated for October 3 this year.
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