03.11.2017 - "The Drayton Arms Theatre", London (England)

When-Midnight-Strikes

“When Midnight Strikes” – with the story by Kevin Hammonds and music by Charles Miller – takes the audience to New York back in 1999. Jennifer (Elizabeth Chadwick) and Christopher (Simon Burr) host a party at their apartment to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It’s the end of a millennium and along with new resolutions come new beginnings. The party gets more complicated as Jennifer has reasons to suspect that Christopher is not faithful and that the woman in question is at the party herself...

It’s a small stage on the first floor of “The Drayton Arms Theatre”. The scenery doesn’t change, it depicts a New York apartment with a balcony in the back. This smallness of the stage is a nice contrast to the large ensemble. It often fills the whole stage when all characters appear together, truly giving the feeling of a crowded party. Producers Elizabeth Chadwick and Marc Kelly – the latter acts as the director as well – have found the perfect venue to tell this story.

There is always something happening on stage. While some characters are performing, it’s interesting to see what the others are doing. Even when they are not the centre of attention, their personalities and the relationships to each other shine through. An example is “Shut up”, where each character, while mingling with the other guests, expresses their annoyances with their speaking partner. These interactions add a lot of humour to the show, other highlights are “Party Conversation” sung by the rather awkward Edward (Andrew Truluck) and uninvited neighbour Muriel (Victoria Waddington) finally acting on their feelings for each other and “We’re here” featuring the arrival of Jennifer’s sister Twyla (Georgina Nicholas) and her best friend Bradley (Marc Kelly). There are touching moments as well, as, for example, “I never learned to type” by party hostess Josephina (Ellie Nunn), who is lamenting her dream to become an actress. 

Invited party guests – including Christopher’s brother Greg (James Dangerfield) or friends Nicole (Stephanie Lysé) and Rachel (Marcia Sommerford) – as well as unexpected guests – as Alex (Matthew Boyd) brought along, because he has nowhere else to go – all share their own story throughout the performance. Each member of the cast manages to portray a complex character. Be it Christopher’s best friend Zoe (Victoria George) using her shallowness to hide her true feelings for Christopher, or Twyla seemingly heartbroken, because her boyfriend couldn’t make it to the party, everybody has hidden depths and sometimes hidden secrets, too. Unfortunately, this large ensemble means that it is not possible for the audience to get to know all characters as much as one would hope. There simply isn’t enough time in the musical to give everybody the attention they would deserve.

Nonetheless, humour, music fitting the story’s atmosphere, interesting character interactions and an unexpected ending make this – rarely performed – musical a memorable experience outside the main West End shows.

© Bericht: Lisa Alina Murauer
© Fotos: Thomas Scurr

20.10.2017 - "The Vaults Theatre", London (England)

Join the Tribe and celebrate the 50th anniversery year of  HAIR

In London ist es seit dem 11. Oktober wieder haarig. Zum 50-jährigen Jubiläum des Musicals „Hair“ unternehmen Zuschauer eine wahrhafte Zeitreise in die 60er Jahre, wenn sie durch die Tore des Theaters „The Vaults“ schreiten. In einem intimen Rahmen wird das Publikum eingeladen, ein Teil des Tribes zu werden. Auch wenn 50 Jahre vergangen sind, „Hair“ könnte kaum aktueller sein, wie diese Produktion zeigt.

Stepping through the gates of „The Vaults Theatre“ feels like travelling back in time. Back into the 60s where the musical “Hair” takes place. “Hair” changed the musical theatre forever, showing what can be put on stage, breaking down barriers and fighting against both racism and discrimination fifty years ago. The opening of this production with speeches from Donald Trump that transform into speeches about the Vietnam War makes one realise that all these issues are still relevant today.

“’Hair’ is a reminder that while we might think we have come so far – and in a way we have – that maybe we haven’t changed as much as we would have liked and we should keep fighting”, says Koryann Stevens, who plays Mary.

 “There is a message”, director Jonathan O’Boyle says. “About diversity, equality, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, about nuclear war and peace. That’s all still really present. Look at America today and what they’re going through with violence and with the way their current president is operating. The show is really permanent and it’s quite sad that fifty years on those issues haven’t been resolved.”

At the same time “Hair” is not only a grim reminder of what hasn’t changed, but also about having a good time. Natalie Green, who plays Cassie, says: “If you go out feeling miserable, then something is wrong with you.”

It is hard to summarise what the musical is about. “Hair” is about a hippie tribe and each tribe member brings their own story to the show, while the Vietnam War constantly lurks in the background. Claude (Robert Metson) is pressured by his parents – played by members of the cast Daniel Bailey and Natalie Green – to enlist in the army and fight in the Vietnam War. The rest of the tribe tries to convince him not to give in to that pressure. Especially Claude’s best friend Berger (Andy Coxon) and Sheila (Laura Johnson) try to convince him to stay.

This fifty-year anniversary production is based on the critical acclaimed Manchester production which played at the “Hope Mill Theatre”, sharing the same director and many of the cast members.

“The cast from Manchester had a lot of input from the new people who brought their own ideas and creativity to the production. At the same time, the new members had a lot of security the existing cast members brought with them about how the show works”, says Jonathan O’Boyle about working with both new and old cast members. “The energy , which is really important to the show, they bring is extraordinary.”

This energy can especially be felt in the powerful “The Flesh Failures/Eyes Look Your Last” which transforms into “Let The Sun Shine In”, a performance which is bound to give the audience goose bumps.

With its rich theatre history and many different productions all around the world, why should people come and see this production in particular?

“It is different”, says Liam Ross-Mills playing Woof – a character that loves both plants and Mick Jagger and has a memorable moment when he is being swung around in the American flag. “You wouldn’t have seen anything like it before.”

“It’s intense, funny, sad. It’s real life”, adds Natalie Green.

“This production of ‘Hair’ is unlike any show I have ever seen. It’s immersive, it works on the idea of a group of people coming together. I think it’s exciting, even for people that have never experienced theatre before”, says Robert Metson.

“Our main intention was to breathe a little bit of new life into it – not that it needs that, because it’s fantastic – but to reinvent it for a new and younger audience”, says Jonathan O’Boyle. “We really wanted to immerse the audience in the show, because the more we worked on “Hair” the more we realised that the show is for the audience. The audience is as much part of the show as the music or the characters or the story, so we wanted to include them, which I think we have achieved.”

The audience is the heart of this production and the audience participation makes every performance unique in its own way. “We were doing a show a couple of nights ago and about fifty people started singing “Good morning star shine” along with us and we were like: this is so cool. Everyone just knows the songs”, Liam Ross-Mills remembers.

With only about 200 seats in the auditorium “The Vaults” offers the right place for a truly intimate and personal performance. The actors are never far away, always ready to come into the audience. “From the get-go we are there with you, the audience walks in on stage and we come out in the audience. And no matter where you are, we find a way to get to you”, says Robert Metson.

They do find a way to get to you. Be it touching you or your hair, talking to you or reacting to you. One memorable moment is before and during the performance of the song “Hair”. Margaret Mead played by Patrick George introduces her husband Gilbert, who in that performance – the evening show on October 12 th – was a man from the audience sitting next to his girlfriend. During the song Margaret takes her place between the couple, constantly interacting with “Gilbert” and other members of the audience. This interaction made it quite hard – in a good way – to focus on the song, which is a fast, energetic number featuring an amazing choreography by William Whelton.

“If you come more than once, you would see a completely different show, depending on where you sat and because we are all going around, you can focus on different people who all tell a completely different story. It’s normal life. It’s watching people just be people and following their stories”, Kirsten Wright, who plays the naïve and sweet Crissy, says.

“We invite the audience in straight away”, says Liam Ross-Mills. “Right in the beginning we say: You are one of us.” Coming into the auditorium before the show starts, the whole cast is sitting in circle in the middle of the stage with their eyes closed, illustrating the broken barrier between audience and actors. The smell and the whole atmosphere makes the room feel like a different world and for the next two hours it becomes just that.

“Hair” really emphasizes the importance of every member of the cast. Everybody plays an essential part. This becomes apparent right at the start when the whole cast comes together in the opening song “Aquarius” sung by Shekinah McFarlane as Dionne. Even with a large ensemble, everybody manages to portray distinct characters that are memorable in their own way. Be it Adam Dawson as Jude, Abiola Efunshile as Tia, Jammy Kasongo as Hud or Jessie May as Jeannie.

When the audience fills the stage at the end of the show, dancing with the cast members, they truly become one with the tribe. “Our aim is to make the audience feel like part of the show as much as possible. That’s what’s really special about this show to me. The sense of community that we are all on this journey together and we are there as a group”, Robert Metson adds. This sense of community truly gives “Hair” its magic. That magic which puts one in a good mood, when leaving the theatre, still hearing the songs inside the head. As Natalie Green says about “Hair”: “If you go out feeling miserable, then something is wrong with you.”

Many thanks to Natalie Green, Koryann Stevens, Kirsten Wright, Liam Ross-Mills, Robert Metson and Jonathan O’Boyle for the insightful interviews.

Das Musical wird bis zum 13. Jänner 2018 aufgeführt. Wer also während dieser Zeit einen London-Tripp plant, sollte sich die Show nicht entgehen lassen.

Nähere Infos findest du unter: www.hair50.com

© Bericht: Lisa Murauer
© Fotos: Claire Bilyard

20.10.2017 - "Det Ny Teater", Kopenhagen (Dänemark)

(B)ROMANCE - The Musical (The Show)
A brand new Danish musical

The brand-new Danish musical „(B)Romance – en musical“ opened on October 14 th – following a four-year production process. The musical is presented on the small stage “OFF Det Ny” under “Det Ny Teater” in Copenhagen. “OFF Det Ny” was created by the producer of “(B)Romance” Kasper Beknes and the stage fits the intimate story perfectly. 

“(B)Romance” tells the story of Frederik (Morten Hemmingsen) and William (Johannes Nymark). Inseparable since childhood their friendship is put to the test when both men fall in love with Ellen (Selene Muñoz), who is caught in her love to both men. 

What sounds like a typical love-story is much more than that. Without wanting to give away too much, at its core, “(B)Romance” is not about the love-triangle, but about friendship.

The scenery, which is designed by Benjamin La Cour, is simple and keeps the focus on the cast. The three actors are what the show is about and nothing should – and nothing does – take the attention from them. Much is required of the cast – not only because they are constantly the focus of the show. Morten Hemmingsen and Johannes Nymark transform from old men into kids in front of the audience. Through the play they portray Frederik and William at different periods in their lives and neither masks, nor different costumes are being used. Hemmingsen and Nymark just use their bodies to depict these changes and different ages of their characters. Their acting alone is convincing enough to see two old men instead of these two young actors on stage. 

One highlight is definitely “Hvem er du” (“Who are you”), a dance-number performed by the old Frederik and William in the retirement home as they try to remember who the other person is. 

Hemmingsen and Nymark are the perfect pair. The close friendship between Frederik and William is clear to see right from the start. This makes it easy to laugh with them and later to suffer with them as their friendship begins to crumble.

Watching Hemmingsen and Nymark act together would make this musical worth to watch, but it is Selene Muñoz who makes “(B)Romance” truly stand out. She acts as the narrator and tells the story in a very distinct way. Other than Hemmingsen and Nymark, she never sings. Actually, she does not even say any word during the entire performance. The story and Ellen’s feelings are revealed through dancing and, interestingly, Ellen’s intentions often seem to be clearer and more open than those of the two men. Even when Muñoz doesn’t appear as Ellen on stage, Ellen’s presence can always be felt. This moving presentation of the story also helps those not fluent in Danish to understand what is happening, for dancing is a language with no spoken language barriers. Muñoz‘ depiction of Ellen gives the conflict between Frederik and William more credibility and thus makes it more powerful. She makes it easy to understand why both men are captivated by Ellen. 

Since the scenery doesn’t take the attention away from the main cast, the details concerning their costumes are much more apparent. Hemmingsen and Nymark both wear an almost identical grey and black suit, only that the colour scheme is reversed. This makes a nice contrast between the two men and to Selene Muñoz, who is the only one who changes costume. 

“(B)Romance” was written and composed by Mikkel Petterson and Christian Berg. Their songs are catchy and make it easy to hum along. Some melodies make one wonder if one hasn’t heard them before, as they seem sort of familiar and sometimes have an – in a good way – old-fashioned touch. At the same time, they also sound new and modern. 

To make the musical come to life they received help from Andreas Garfield who wrote the dialogue and director Mads M. Nielsen. They both put a lot of input into the story and their hard work can be seen when watching the performance.

The whole creative team made “(B)Romance” into the musical it is now. A truly special musical indeed, with a story that is not only told through music and dialogue, but also through dancing. Everything fits together and nothing plays a bigger part than the other. With humour and big emotions “(B)Romance” tells a story about love – be it love in friendship or romantic love – and forgiveness. It is forgiveness that the most moving moment in the show is about: The moment when Frederik and William find each other after all these years and finally make their peace with each other. To sum their story up, it makes sense to use words from the musical, “We are born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship we can, for a moment, create an illusion that we aren’t.”

“(B)Romance – en musical” can be seen in Copenhagen “OFF Det Ny” until November 2 nd. A wish remains that “(B)Romance” will live on beyond that date. The premiere was met with standing ovations and applause, so hopefully that wish will become reality.

© Bericht: Lisa Murauer
© Fotos: Det Ny Teater

28.09.2017 - "Gamle Scene" des Königlichen Theaters in Kopenhagen" (Dänemark)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

(Klokkeren Fra Notre Dame)

Never before has the musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” been produced in Scandinavia. Fredericia’s production called “Klokkeren fra Notre Dame” became an instant success after celebrating its premiere in Fredericia. On June 23 rd, the musical opened at The Royal Theatre’s “Gamle Scene” in Copenhagen, where it even got an extended run. Apart from obtaining raving reviews Fredericia’s production also received the price for “Best musical” at this year’s “Årets Reumert”, the annual Danish theatre awards.

The Story:
The story takes place in Paris at the end of the 15 th century. The hunchbacked Quasimodo lives in the towers of Notre Dame working as a bell ringer. His only human contact is his foster father, the archdeacon Claude Frollo, who advises Quasimodo to stay hidden in the church seemingly for his own protection. On the day of the Festival of the Fools – where the ostracised gypsies attend as well – Quasimodo decides to leave Notre Dame for the first time.
At the festival, he meets the gypsy dancer Esmeralda. Not only Quasimodo but also captain Phoebus and Frollo are captivated by her dance. Especially Frollo develops an unhealthy obsession with Esmeralda. After she turns him down, he sees no other way to free himself from his madness but to kill her – even if that means having to burn down the whole city.

The intention of this production was to take the story from the stage to the audience and to take the audience into the story no matter where the audience members would sit. For that reason, the scenography – designed beautifully by Benjamin La Cour who got a price for this work at “Årets Reumert” – is something special. A catwalk, which the actors even leave at times, leads into the auditorium. With the use of video projectors, one gets the feeling of being in Notre Dame itself and the changes of scenery – when it seems to move from the ground floor of the church to Quasimodo’s towers or the absolute glorious shift from “Heaven’s Light” to “Hellfire” – contribute to a unique theatrical experience.

One innovation allows a special interaction between the actors and the audience. Members of the audience could sit on the stage itself – either on the left or right side. Dark cloaks lie on these special seats, which were designed to resemble church pews. It is up to the audience if they want to wear these clothes. Wearing them truly made one part of the scenery itself, giving the impression to the rest of the audience to be a part of the ensemble. Even more so when these seats shift position so that one could look directly into the auditorium.

The view is restricted at times. However, being that close to the actors, receiving plenty of glances – and even jump scares – and having them sit right beside you is a special event. It is pretty shocking when the archdeacon himself takes his seat at the stage and starts laughing and even talking to members of the audiences. During the chorus it can be clearly heard how immensely talented every member of the ensemble is. When the singers are this close to you, every single voice can be heard separately and they all sound marvellous.

In contrast to the Disney movie the musical is quite dark. Nonetheless, there are plenty of moments to make the audience laugh. The scene where Frollo meets up with King Louis – “The Careful” – comes to mind. Given that Frollo wants to achieve Esmeralda’s arrest, one wouldn’t think that this scene would be as hilarious as it is, but the combination of Sebastian Harris as King Louis and Mads M. Nielsen as Frollo is priceless. Right at his introduction Harris manages to make the audience laugh, as he lets Frollo wait for a very long time. So long that Frollo, while being on his knees, looks at the audience, seemingly asking for help. Seeing the villain, who has just proved in the intense “Hellfire” scene to be dangerous, slipping on his knees to the king to finally get noticed, one can’t help but laugh at the shear absurdity.

Lars Mølsted plays the role of Quasimodo. With his convincing portrayal of the different aspects of Quasimodo – be it submissive, rebellious, hopeful or devastated – he allows the audience to easily sympathise with him. Mølsted’s rendition of “Himlens Skær” (“Heaven’s Light”) can only be described as heavenly beautiful. Its reprise in “Hvor mirakler sker” (“In a Place of Miracles”), where Quasimodo realises that Esmeralda is in love with Phoebus and not with him, is even more bittersweet.

Mølsted’s acting during the finale is spot on, seeing Quasimodo with the dying Esmeralda puts tears in one’s eyes. As he takes off his costume at the end and delivers his final sentences it can be seen how he himself is touched by the show. Mølsted rightfully received the award for Singer of the Year at “Årets Reumert” for this role.

The take on the relationship between Quasimodo and Frollo is a quite interesting one. There is some kind of affection between the two resembling one between a pet and its owner. Frollo even pets Quasimodo’s hair at one occasion.

Acting as the antagonist Claude Frollo Mads M. Nielsen is the centre of attention the moment he steps on the stage. One look into his eyes is enough to see Frollo’s insanity that grows during the course of the show. In fact, it is this insanity that makes the gruesome actions Frollo performs somewhat understandable. Nielsen portrays an utterly terrifying villain, because Frollo is a truly conflicted human being and by no means a heartless monster.

Frollo really doesn’t understand why he is so obsessed with Esmeralda and the thing he desires most is to free himself from this obsession. This is apparent when he meets Esmeralda in the dungeons. Taking off his cross and slamming it against the stage seats suggests how far down Frollo is at this point. He begs Esmeralda to take pity on him, even falling on his knees, before gradually getting more aggressive the more she pushes him away. This goes even so far that he climbs on top of her, while demanding she should love him. It is the one scene where he truly lets his guard down, expressing both his rage and his fear.

Apart from being frightening Nielsen also brings just the right amount of comedy to the role. His attempts to court Esmeralda, the flirtatious/teasing way he speaks with her and especially the way Nielsen swings himself dramatically on the railing are as absurd as they are hilarious. Nielsen also seems to take pleasure in interacting with the audience, as well as in scaring them. From slamming the cross against the stage seats to swinging a sword down on members of the audience, if there is an opportunity to scare, he takes it.

Another little interesting detail is that Frollo witnesses Esmeraldas death from one of the stage seats. Nielsen’s expressions show the full range of Frollo’s emotions and him breaking down next to Esmeralda’s dead body makes the scene even more powerful.

His understudy Søren Bech-Madsen has a different take on the role. His Frollo seems much more controlled with occasional glimpses of madness shining through his calm façade. He shows his true face during “Hellfire”, where the lightning really gives him a demonic look.

Bjørg Gamst’s Esmeralda captivates not only Quasimodo, Phoebus and Frollo but the audience as well. It is easy to see why they all fall for her in an instant. Her dance is beautiful and full of life like Esmeralda herself. Her kindness and her bravery make Esmeralda a very sympathetic character. Even if it means risking her own life, she protects Quasimodo from the angry crowd and she stands up to Frollo.

Gamst’s performance of “Gud vær barmhjertig” (“God Help the Outcast”) is touching and seeing Esmeralda together with Quasimodo being carefree in “Verden set heroppefra” (“Top of the World”) makes one wish they both would get their happy ending. It is heart-breaking to see Esmeralda being burned on the stake. The scream Gamst lets out gets right under your skin.

One of Gamst’s most powerful lines is when she asks Frollo, after Esmeralda has been captured, why it had to be her he wants. Even if the fear is evident in her voice the confusion as well as her need for an answer are even more apparent.

Linnea Stenbeck who alternates as Esmeralda is a joy to watch. She has a great chemistry with Christian Lund’s Phoebus and their duet “En ny verden” (“Someday”) is as wonderful as it is tearjerking.

Christian Lund as captain Phoebus seems to be a shallow guy at first. His first song “Afslapning i Paris” (“Rest and Recreation”) shows that there is more to Phoebus than meets the eye. Recently returned from the war the events of the battlefields still haunt him. Lund switches easily between the seemingly cheerful guy and the traumatised soldier, even mid-song.

Phoebus’ good heart is most evident in his relationship with Esmeralda, defying his orders for her and even getting himself injured. Watching Lund as the wounded Phoebus makes one believe he could collapse at any moment with the way he stumbles on the stage. It is also tear-jerking to see him falling into despair as he repeatedly fails to pick up Esmeralda’s body in the final.

Diluckshan Jeyaratnam as the king of the gypsies contributes a lot of the comedy in this otherwise grim production. Jeyaratnam interacts a lot with the audiences often giving them a mischievous glance. Clopin is not above cruelty when it comes to protecting his people. His merciless side shows when he captures Quasimodo and Phoebus and tries to execute them after they have found the gypsies’ sanctuary.

His relationship with Esmeralda, whom he kind of protects like an older brother, proves that he is not without heart. His interaction with Lund’s Phoebus is also interesting. Taunting him at first and trying to keep him away from Esmeralda the two gradually form an understanding of each other and even fight side by side in the finale.

Every member of the large ensemble is brilliant as well. Be it Mads Æbeløe Nielsen as St. Aphrodisius who makes the audience laugh when he “looses” his head, Christina Elisabeth Mørkøre as Madame who protects Esmeralda from Frollo or Oliver Lundqvist as the soldier Frederic. Even the gargoyles and stone figures have personalities of their own and can be easily distinguished from each other.

It isn’t often that a production as a whole is so unbelievably amazing that just one word can sum it up: Perfection. This “Hunchback of Notre Dame” proves how great theatre can be if everything fits together: Special effects, the costumes, the dancing and choreography, the scenography, the orchestra and last but not least the singing and acting of the whole ensemble.

The best example for this would be “Helvedes ild” (“Hellfire”), sung by Mads M. Nielsen when Frollo decides to burn Esmeralda if she continues to deny him. Nielsen’s performance combined with the choir is breath-taking to watch. Bjørg Gamst appears as Esmeralda and takes up the role of the temptress Frollo sees her as she tries to seduce him. Apart from being elegant, her dance with Frollo illustrates his mental battle perfectly. There are so many little details just in this one song.

The most spectacular moment, however, is the ending. The auditorium starts to tremble as flames appear and burn the projected image of Notre Dame. It really feels like being part of this hellish scenery. The whole production team really gave their all in this and their work absolutely pays off. Their version of “Hellfire” couldn’t be more perfect and is easily one of the most impressive theatrical experiences. This is theatre at its best.

Fredericia’s “The Hunchback of Norte Dame” might have had its last curtain fall. With the immense success, one can hope this was not the last time this version can be seen. If given the opportunity, everybody should see this production; it has to be seen. It doesn’t even matter if one doesn’t understand Danish at all to be captivated by the magic of this show. There is simply nothing like this.


 

 Den Bericht in etwas gekürzter Fassung und in Deutsch kannst du im musicalcocktail 131 (Okt./Nov. 2017) lesen.

   

© Bericht: Lisa Murauer
© Fotos: Søren Malmose


Im Gespräch mit
MADS M. NIELSEN
(Claude Frollo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

Mads M. Nielsen is one of the most well-known and successful actors and directors in Denmark. Being a third-generation actor Mads made his film debut in “Drengen der forsvandt” (“The Boy Who Disappeared”) when he was eleven years old. After graduating from the actors’ school in Aarhus, Mads has worked both in theatre and television. Most recently, Mads played antagonist Claude Frollo in Fredericia’s production of „The Hunchback of Notre Dame“. His truly astonishing portrayal of Frollo rightfully earned him a nomination for “Best Male Ensemble-player” at this year’s “Årets Reumert”, the annual Danish theatre award.

In the beginning, Mads wasn’t sure about auditioning. While he has worked in musicals before – like “Fiddler on the Roof”, “The Rocky Horror Show” and the Danish musical “Midt om Natten” (“In the Middle of the Night”) – he has never considered himself a singer. What made Mads change his mind was that “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” would not only be played in Fredericia but also at The Royal Theater’s “Gamle Scene” in Copenhagen.

“I have an old romance with that room. Not a hundred percent good one. I had something to erase. So, I thought ‘What the heck, let’s go for it", he says.

Apart from moving to Fredericia for the original production and not seeing his daughter often, the singing was one of the biggest challenges while preparing for the role of Frollo.

“Originally, I thought – since that’s how it is in the cartoon – Frollo only sings one song and a little bit of “Out There”. Then I figured out that he has a song about everything in the first act. That was kind of a surprise.”

Frollo was also the first typical Disney-villain Mads has portrayed. What makes Frollo a truly terrifying villain is that he is a very human character. Someone who even exists in the real world. For Mads Frollo “is a symbol of all the -ism’s – fanatism, racism, fascism and religious extremism”. Even with all the horrible acts Frollo performs in the musical, there are still aspects about him one can relate to.

“Everybody knows the situation where you have a choice to do something you want to do – but you know it is wrong – or to follow your instinct of being a good person. I think people could relate to that. And I think people could relate to being a bad parent. Because Frollo is also a bad parent.”

Besides being responsible for all these dark moments, Frollo contributes to the fun as well.

“The villain allows the fun and the Disney moments – like when Esmeralda and Quasimodo are sitting on the rooftop and singing with the gargoyles. Everybody gets warm-hearted, because I can come in and ruin it”, Mads laughs.

Another thing Mads enjoyed was scaring the audience. “It was fun. It is always fun to scare people. I loved that”, he smiles.

There were plenty of opportunities to do just that, because in this production members of the audience could sit on the stage itself. Apart from scaring people there were other to consider as well while acting.

“I tried the best I could to interact”, says Mads, “but when you have like a thousand people in the auditorium and about thirty people sitting on the stage, you have to do more for the people in the auditorium. The big show numbers were all turned out. That’s why I started “Hellfire” with the back to the auditorium and the front to the stage people, so they had the feeling of being a part of this.”

Something Mads regrets, however, where the specific rules the people sitting on stage received.

“I tried to start some conversations and that was hard, because people were like: ‘Oh, I'm not allowed to do that.’ It made them worried about what they were and weren’t allowed to do. The instructors should have just said: Don’t record anything, don’t stand up. Do whatever you want, just don’t grab the actors!”

Apart from getting a nomination himself, fellow actor Lars Mølsted who played Quasimodo won the price for “Singer of the Year” while the musical itself received the award for “Best Musical” at “Årets Reumert”. What made Fredericia’s production such a success?

“It was the right time to do the show”, explains Mads. “When we played for three weeks, Donald Trump got into power, so the musical couldn’t be more up to date. It is so obviously about loving your fellow human and about racism. People realised that the score and the music are amazing. And our scenographer Benjamin La Cour made a masterpiece out of the theatre room, so you were like in a Disney-ride. Then you had the combination of Lars, who is a great musical performer, and me, who is a well experienced actor. We never had one second where we argued and just enjoyed being on stage together. We made a perfect pair and that shines through, when you watch a show. Even people who didn’t personally like the show were touched by it.”

Critics and audiences were not the only ones touched by the musical.

“There was one evening in Fredericia, where the audience around the catwalk were people with Down syndrome”, Mads remembers. “I've done a lot of theatre where we played for a lot of handicapped people and that was great. It’s something else, because they react in another way. But to see about two hundred people who were only interested in Quasimodo – because they could see themselves in him – was quite touching. It was one of the most beautiful theatre experiences I've ever had.”

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” may have had its last curtain fall, but there is no time for Mads to relax. His next project as a director “Vildheks” (“Wildwitch”) opens on September 14 th at the “Østre Gasværk Teater” in Copenhagen. “Vildheks” is based on the popular fantasy book series by Lene Kaaberbøl.

Mads M. Nielsen, Foto © Søren Malmose

“With “Vildheks” I'm doing a show with a lot of teenagers – acting, dancing and doing acrobatics – and it’s hard but also so exciting”, he tells about the show. “I like to work with people who crave to be on stage. I understand them and I know what to do and what not to do. To do theatre for young people and their parents is interesting and it’s important to keep bringing quality, love and passion to the theatre. When you go in the theatre room, you go in a community with a lot of people you don’t know, to have a common experience together. Every time we do that, the world becomes a little bit a better place. And we’re losing these common experiences with the loss of our religions that have become war machines of terror and because of the internet and television.”

While talking about his future projects Mads adds: “When you’re a freelancer, you go with the opportunity that is presented to you. But let’s see. Right now, I'm directing. I'm doing “Vildheks”, then “(B)Romance” and then “Elf – The Musical”. So, I have a full year.”

Mads, thank you very much for the insightful interview. I wish you on behalf of musicalcocktail best of luck for “Vildheks”, “(B)Romance” and “Elf – The Musical”!

© Lisa Murauer

30.08.2017 - "Det Ny Teater", Kopenhagen (Dänemark)

(B)ROMANCE - The Musical
A brand new Danish musical

“(B)Romance”, a brand new Danish musical, is set to premiere on October 14 th in “Det Ny Teater” in Copenhagen. Not often does one get a glimpse behind the development of a new musical, but thankfully Christian Berg, one of the creators and composers, met up with me to talk about the production process.

It is no coincidence that “(B)Romance” will have its premiere in “Det Ny Teater”. Christian himself has worked there as an actor many times and the creation of “(B)Romance” is directly linked to that place. It was during Christians time in “Love Never Dies” that he and Kasper Beknes – who is the producer of “(B)Romance” – had the idea of creating a space more intimate than “Det Ny Teater”, which is known for producing big theatre shows. That is how “Off Det Ny” was born on the stage downstairs “Det Ny Teater”, the same stage where “(B)Romance” will be played.

Komponist/Autor Christian Berg

In the process of doing shows “Off Det Ny” Christian came up with the idea of writing a completely new Show. “A show that I didn’t know anything about. All I knew was that I wanted to do it with my friend Mikkel Petterson, I wanted to write something about friendship and I wanted it to be called “(B)Romance”.”

The title alone, which is one of the only things that didn’t change during production, already tells a lot about the central themes of the musical. It is a story about friendship, about how men relate to each other, about love and – most of all – about forgiveness.

That was the beginning of “(B)Romance” back in 2013. Not long after the idea was born, Mikkel and Christian had almost an hour and a half of music. The original concept was to let “(B)romance” be a theatre concert with only Mikkel and Christian singing and playing with a small band. However, at some point in the production process they became ambitious. They realised that while concerts were something they could both always do, “(B)Romance” had the potential of turning into something unique.

Komponist/Autor Mikkel Kjær Petterson

As a result, the concert idea was dropped and “(B)Romance” was set to become a musical. To get the show right, Mikkel and Christian showed their concept to people working at theatres, who all said the same thing: The songs were great, but the story wasn’t convincing yet.

Thus, the idea of telling a story about different kinds of friendships was discarded. “(B)Romance” should instead focus on one friendship between two guys that breaks down, because they fall for the same woman, and later regenerates again. Even with the dramatic structure there still seemed to be something missing to make the audience truly care.

To understand how this great friendship could possibly break down because of a woman, this woman had to be seen on stage. Originally, Mikkel and Christian were very reluctant to include the woman. Since the focus was meant to be on the two guys, they should be the only characters on stage. While workshopping the show, however, they were convinced by their scriptwriter Andreas Garfield and their director Mads M. Nielsen to let the woman be seen.

Regisseur Mads M. Nielsen

As it turned out, these workshops helped to find out how the musical should be put together. Including the female character makes both the conflict between the two guys and the story itself more relatable. From not appearing at all the woman is now set to be in every scene and turned into the narrator of the show. A special narrator, because to make her be different from the two guys, it was decided that she could not speak, but dance instead.

“I think with the help of Andreas, Kasper and Mads we really could come up with a story that Mikkel and I could never have written, because it’s not something that occurred to us. Those three guys fixed all the little hurdles, the dramatic holes we had in the show. And they were really helpful with forcing us to push the story in the right direction.”

from left to right: Morten Hemmingsen, Selene Munoz, Johannes Nymark

Even if it helps a lot that Christian is an actor himself, developing a brand-new show comes with a lot of aspects one doesn’t necessarily think about when working as an actor. “As an actor, you’re just used to “them just giving you stuff”. You don’t think about where it comes from. There are a lot of little logistical things you are not aware of until you’re confronted with them. Now that I’ve produced a small show, I’m impressed with how much it must take to develop a big one. People that produce theatre are special people. They know a lot and they are very dedicated.”

It certainly takes a lot of dedication to keep working on one show for four years. The big hope for the premiere in October is to give “(B)Romance” a long life – to send it out to theatres around the world. “(B)Romance” is not a show with huge demands. It requires two guys that can sing and act and a female dancer. It is easily adaptable as well, both suited for high-school productions and productions with well-established actors. Since the script and songs have been written in English, exporting “(B)Romance” to other countries becomes easier, too.

So, what is the main reason why people should see “(B)Romance”?

What makes “(B)Romance” fascinating is its very 2017 turn with a new concept. Dialogue, music and dancing play an equal part in telling the story. The music has an old-fashioned style to it – like The Beatles or Randy Newman – which is the reason why “(B)Romance” was originally composed and written completely in English. In another way, it’s also much newer.

“(B)Romance” is a big show in a tiny format. While it borrows from the conventions of musical theatre, there is always a twist to these well-known ideas. “There will be a dance number, a traditional “Singing In The Rain” dance number, but perhaps this dance number will instead be done by two 95-year old men, who can barely move.”

“I really hope we get it right. We’ve lived with this material for four years and we’re just not tired of it. We do hope that we can give it a long life, because the way the show is now is good. I think the score and the script are beautiful and if we can get it right, it’s going to be something very special and unique.”

I want to thank Christian for the interview. Last but not least, I wish “(B)Romance” a lot of success at the premiere on October 14 th.

© Bericht: Lisa Murauer
© Fotos: Det Ny Teater

Den Bericht in etwas gekürzter Fassung und in Deutsch kannst du im musicalcocktail 131 (Okt./Nov. 2017) lesen.