Everyone tends to think of Broadway when they hear the words “musical theatre”. But it’s not just Broadway that is big for musical theatre. There’s also London’s West End. But in the non-English speaking world, German musical theatre is also a pretty big deal… or at least, it is becoming a big deal. How does musical theatre vary from culture to culture?
Centers for Musical Theatre in the German-Speaking World?
German musical theatre generally starts in Wien (Vienna), Austria or in Essen, Germany. These are the biggest starting places for German musicals but they often times branch out all over the world. We’ll get to that later. Another German musical theatre center is Bochum, Germany. Bochum is home to Germany’s longest-running musical. Can you guess what it is? It’s not LES MISÉRABLES and it’s not THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Nope, it’s STARLIGHT EXPRESS, a musical that is performed on roller skates. Yep. STARLIGHT EXPRESS has not appeared on the Broadway and West End stages for a while because it was deemed “dangerous” and as not conforming to safety regulations. Sure, there are fireworks that shoot from some of the actor’s skates, and there are some insane maneuvers that are done on said skates but all actors have prior 4 month required training at a skate school in Los Angeles before they can perform in the show.
Broadway and the West End Usually Send Productions To Each Other Across the Ocean… What Happens in Germany?
So, yes. Broadway and London’s West End oftentimes share their best productions with each other. For example, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA started off in London but it’s had a very successful run on Broadway as well. So if London and New York open up productions in the other city, where do Germany and Austria send their productions?
Well… not Broadway. And usually not to the West End. At least, not anymore (though that may change with Stephen Schwartz’s new musical SCHIKANEDER). Arguable this may have started with the most successful German language musical of all time, ELISABETH. Of course, Broadway was eager to bring ELISABETH across the ocean but they also wanted to make some changes. Like make der Tod (Death) and Luchini (an Italian anarchist who *spoiler alert* kills Sisi) one character. Well… Levay and Kunze (the people who wrote the musical) were not okay with this and would not let Broadway open a production of ELISABETH or really any of their productions since. And not to mention the utter failure that was the Broadway production of TANZ DER VAMPIRE. The costumes were sloppy and well… atrocious compared to the German and Austrian production’s.
Anyways, I still haven’t answered that question, have I? If Germany doesn’t send their productions to Broadway or the West End, where do those German productions go? Well, they generally will go to places like Shanghai, Osaka, Hungaria, etc. and have very good runs there.
I can’t speak for London’s West End on this one because I’ve never seen a West End show (unfortunately). But on Broadway, at least, I know that the actor’s just take their bows. There may be flowers for the leading lady but that’s kind of rare to happen at the curtain call. In Germany, though, this is typically different.
In Germany, usually all main actors get flowers (at least the main three). And they take their bows and they welcome the conductor onto the stage and he or she gets the final bow. After this, however, they may sing some of the songs from the musical again at the curtain call. I know that this happens in ELISABETH and they sing short versions of “Kitsch”, “Der Letzte Tanz”, etc.
Costumes and Wigs
Broadway is kind of known for slacking in the wig and costume department (especially amongst THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA fans). West End is generally better, but how do Germany and Austria compare? Well… let’s see.
I’m going to use THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA as my example here because I can compare all three productions to each other.
Let’s start with wigs, shall we? Because that’s a lot easier to just dissect at a glance. The wigs from the Oberhausen production of PHANTOM were spectacular. They looked pretty realistic and were really soft and pretty. The curls weren’t nearly as tight as the curls in the Broadway (or even most West End) productions.
Now the costumes. I’d say that the Oberhausen production had much nicer costumes when you get to look at them up close. Looking at the details for the Broadway costumes always kind of just makes me sad. Of course, they’re still pretty, but they kind of just fall flat compared to other productions world wide. Oberhausen, though… those costumes were gorgeous. Little details just went a long way. It’s hard to describe, but try looking at close up pictures of the costumes. I think that you’ll see what I mean.
Fan Interaction With Actors
On Broadway there are things like BroadwayCon and the Broadway Flea Market that are held so that fans can interact with their favorite actors and actresses. And of course, there’s also the stage door.
In Germany (and I think London as well) there are promotion days, set aside primarily for the sake of promoting the musical. Press gets to come in and I believe that fans are too. At STARLIGHT EXPRESS, there is even a whole part after the show where the actors, in costumes, will stop by and take pictures with fans and sign autographs and such. Most of this takes place indoors unlike the outdoor stage door culture on Broadway. In Austria and Germany there are also musical theatre concerts that happen outside and are called Musicalfest (Musical Festival) in which actors (who may or may not be in costume) will sing songs from the show that they are currently in or maybe even musicals that they have been in in the past. These are really good opportunities to meet your favorite actors and just hear them sing. I’m not sure whether or not you have to pay to attend but it seems to be kind of just open for the most part. These are done at least two times a year (from what I can tell). Aside from these concerts, there are also stagings of excerpts from new musicals, and you can even get behind-the-scenes looks at makeup artists’ work and the wigs, etc. It all appears to be completely free but you probably should look into it a little before going if you plan on going. While the concert takes place outside, most other events are indoors.
Have you seen musicals in another country? How did the musical theatre culture differ there from what you were used to?