By Cathy Meils
VIENNA -- They've given us operas and operettas, so is it any wonder that Vienna is determined to make its mark in the world of musicals?
After 20-plus years of bringing Broadway musicals to Vienna, Vereinigte Buehnen Wien (United Stages of Vienna) finally is reversing the trend.
The VBW producers will realize the decadelong wish of seeing one of its productions on Broadway when "Dance of the Vampires" opens Nov. 21 at the Minskoff.
VBW, which licensed the show, will participate in the production and receive producing credit.
"I think everyone thinks of Broadway as the Mecca and thinks it would be a kind of peak," says VBW consultant-producer Rudi Klausnitzer. "I'm fully aware what a difficult market this is and what the competition is, but I think it would help us get more co-productions under way."
The Broadway production will see additional music and some fine-tuning of the story's details. The production's director and several other creatives are new, too.
Although they are new to New York, Klausnitzer and VBW honed their skills at adapting VBW productions for such diverse territories as Japan, Sweden and Hungary. A dozen VBW productions have traveled to other cities, and several more are in the works.
They include productions of "Mozart!" for Tokyo and Sweden, a revival of "Elisabeth" in Osaka and possibly "Dance of the Vampires" in Poland.
At home, VBW, which churns out one production annually, premiered its latest effort Sept. 21 at the Raimund Theater to a VIP-studded crowd.
"Wake Up" continues to feed the growing national appetite for local fare. Rainhard Fendrich, a local pop celebrity, penned and stars alongside another popular entertainer, Alexander Goebel. The musical bucks the trend established by a string of historical/costume musicals based on Mozart, Freud and the Empress Elisabeth. It is a bit of pop-lite behind-the-music-scene navel-gazing set to music by Harold Faltermeyer.
The attraction of the two 50-ish rockers could leave foreigners cold, the hit-and-miss score (with the majority of tunes falling into the hit category, and the second-act opener aching for an encore) wanders oddly across the pop musical spectrum, and demanding audiences may want subtler storytelling. But the production team headed by opera director/set designer/lighting designer Philippe Arnaud serves up a richly satisfying high-concept production.
Klausnitzer aptly compares "Wake Up's" style to "Dick Tracy," realized most completely by Sue Blaine's deliciously ripe costumes. With equally strong doses of silhouette, color and detail, the costumes are complemented by Arnaud's neo-constructivist sets bathed in day-glo lights. Choreographer Kim Duddy (director of last year's mold-breaking updating of "Hair" for VBW) infuses the chorus with firecracker energy.
Two weeks earlier, VBW reopened "Jekyll & Hyde" after a long summer break. The flawless production (said to be the personal favorite of composer Frank Wildhorn) is enhanced by the charismatic performance of Thomas Borchert, a multitalented and strikingly handsome German who measures up to his Broadway peers. With "Jekyll & Hyde" and "Hair," which miraculously captured the pulse of Vienna, VBW is proving itself expert at infusing new life into Broadway musicals.
At the same time, the company continues to develop new musicals under the direction of Franz Haeussler, who recently added artistic director responsibilities to his role as financial director. The close of 2003 sees the opening of Dutch writer Leon de Winter's first musical, "WallStreet.com" with music by Austria's Peter Wolf ("We Built This City on Rock and Roll").
"Barbarella," with music by Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics), is expected to have a completed book by the end of the year in anticipation of a 2004 opening. Directors are still to be chosen for both.
Looking ahead to 2006, VBW could see a major change. The Theater an der Wien, whose name is historically linked to Mozart, will be given over to productions associated with Mozart in honor of his 250th anniversary year and converted into a full-time opera house.
The loss of its most prestigious theater still leaves VBW with two houses. The company will likely move its own productions into the centrally located Ronacher Theater, which it currently operates as a rental house.