Tuesday 3 November 2020

Between the Lines: Modern European & Asian Musical Theatre

In this final post on musical theatre I want to talk about the shows coming out of Europe and Asia. Many countries put on musicals, but for this post I will concentrate on the four main purveyors of original productions: France/French Canada, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Japan.

France/French Canada
Original French-language shows lean more towards the rock/pop opera side of things, with many produced as arena spectaculars. One early hit was Starmania in the 1970s, but things really took off from the 90s onwards, with shows such as Notre Dame de Paris, Romeo et Juliette, Dracula: Entre le mort et l’amour and Le Roi Soleil, among others. These shows often star big-name French and Canadian pop singers.

Kunze and Levay are kings of the original German-language musical, with hits including Elisabeth, Mozart! and Rebecca. Another major success was Jim Steinman’s Tanz der Vampire. (There was a US version of this show, but they completely ruined it.) Tanz is more rock-based, but the rest are traditional musicals with a big symphonic orchestra.

The Czech Republic
Musicals are very popular in the Czech Republic and, like in France, they tend to star pop and rock singers, some of whom even write the shows themselves. Several works are more orchestral, like Svoboda’s Dracula, but most have a distinctly pop sound. A few notable productions include Johanka z Arku, Kleopatra, Golem, Krysař, Tájemství, and Hamlet.

Japan loves musicals and you see frequent productions of famous shows (including some of the European musicals I have mentioned above!), sometimes by the all-female Takarazuka troupe. However, another popular area is musicals based on anime/manga. Some are a bit so-so and only really for fans of that anime/manga. However, others are really good productions that anyone can enjoy, even if you don't know the source material. New productions of The Prince of Tennis musical occur frequently. There is a brilliant Death Note musical and there have been five (over seven productions) amazing Black Butler musicals.

CD and/or DVD recordings are available for many European shows and can be found in specialist stores such as UK-based Dress Circle and Germany-based Sound of Music. If you are a musical theatre fan, I do recommend checking them out. You can also find clips from some productions on YouTube, if you want a little taster first.

The Japanese anime musicals are a little harder to pick up. You will find odd bits on YouTube and occasionally find some CDs and DVDs at the stores I mentioned above. However, mostly you need to source them direct from Japan. They are quite pricey and often only available for a limited time, so if you want one, get in quick!

Are there any foreign-language musicals you’ve enjoyed and would like to recommend?

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