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Comet set to light up Shanghai

Pub Date:23-12-01 11:36 Source:China Daily

A new rendition of Dave Malloy's musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 will premiere in Shanghai in January.

Produced by the Shanghai Grand Theatre, West Bund Theatre and Changyang Culture Company, the production will bring "the complete assembly line of Broadway theater" to Shanghai, says Chinese director Zhou Xiaowei.

Three preview performances will be held from Dec 29 to Jan 1 at the Nine Trees Future Art Center in Fengxian district. The official shows will take place at the Bocom New Bund 31 Performing Arts Center from Jan 13 to March 3.

"With the production of The Great Comet, we hope to explore the business model of the global musical industry," says Zhang Xiaoding, general manager of Shanghai Grand Theatre and co-producer of the new production, at a news conference on Nov 22.

"We have over the years brought together multiple investors, taken advantage of the resources of Broadway, made full use of the branding influence of the SGT, facilitated talent exchanges and cultural collaboration between China and the United States and other countries, so as to expand the market for live shows, especially for musical theater."

The SGT is currently one of the biggest promoters of Western musicals in the country and was responsible for bringing the iconic Les Miserables to Chinese audiences in 2002. Since its inception in 1998, the theater has steadily grown from being a promoter to a nurturer and producer of musicals, notes Zhang.

Other milestones in the theater's history include the establishment of a new creative center a few years ago and its debut of a Chinese rendition of The Brothers Karamazov last year. The theater is also involved in the management of the new West Bund Grand Theatre, a venue designed to host musical performances.

The international cast will be led by director and choreographer Chloe Treat, as well as music director Or Matias, who has been working on the show since the original production was created 2012.

In terms of the leading roles, Pierre will be played by Cooper Grodin, Natasha by Naomi Diana and Anatole by Dean Cestari.

Casting for the new production was simultaneously carried out in New York and Shanghai earlier this summer, and the auditions drew about 4,500 applicants.

Grodin, a veteran musical actor who has played leading roles in The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and Evita, says he was surprised to learn of a Chinese company creating a new production of The Great Comet in Shanghai.

"There are well-accepted musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables," he says. "But the SGT and its partners chose to take the risk and produce The Great Comet. This convinced me that the city of Shanghai is ready for high-quality theater art such as this.

"Seven years ago, I saw the show in New York, and our music director was conducting and playing the piano. I watched his energy and I said to myself I had to work with him, sit next to him and make art with him," he adds.

The challenge of playing the protagonist was another reason why Grodin wanted to be a part of the production.

Matias describes the opportunity to work in China as "a dream come true" and says he heard many things about the Chinese enthusiasm for musical shows back in the US.

Treat says: "Something happens when you collaborate with people who are from a different culture. We always knew that we wanted this production to have a unique Shanghai style ... so I think you are going to see a version of this musical which holds on to all of the kind of storytelling that the original Broadway show did, but is infused with a really opulent, elegant, glamorous sense of style that we can only find in Shanghai."

Ye Zile, the visual director of the production, also released a series of new conceptual images at the news conference. Inspired by the imagery of the great comet in the show, he presented the characters as planets in the cosmos.

"Each character goes around in his or her own orbit, and when they meet, beautiful things could happen, or there could be devastating impacts," he explains.

The stage design for the Chinese production will be managed by award-winning artist Pilyoung Oh from South Korea, who will remove 400 seats from the front rows to expand the performance area.

Four rings of seats, each representing an aristocratic household in the musical, will be placed among the performers on the stage to create the setting of a Russian ballroom. While the remaining audiences will still watch the show from the perspective of a framed stage, those sitting among the actors will find the performance happening around them.

Malloy, the original writer of The Great Comet, will travel to Shanghai next month and participate in the preparations for the new show.

Praised by the New York Times as "the most innovative and best new musical to open on Broadway since Hamilton", the original musical was adapted from a 70-page segment of Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, and was originally shown off-Broadway at the Ars Nova in 2012.

The Broadway production, which was presented at the Imperial Theatre from November 2016 to September 2017, bagged several awards, including two Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and four Theatre World Awards.

If you go

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

Dec 29-Jan 1, Nine Trees Future Art Center.

Add: D1, 99 Shuhuan Road, Fengxian district, Shanghai.

Jan 13-Mar 3, Bocom New Bund 31 Performing Arts Center.

Add: 777 Gaoqing Road West, Pudong new area, Shanghai.

Editor:Qin Shuying

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