Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Genre Chemistry Tests Director

In a rehearsal hall of the Novaya Opera, Mr. Stanislavsksy is getting nervous.

"Not like that, Mrs. Chekhov," he kindly berates the actress in question. "We've done a lot of Chekhov today. We need it faster, double-speed."

British director and self-styled Stanislavskyite John Adams has a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to his profession - even when he's teaching foreigners through an interpreter and in a genre that's alien to them.

"John has three observations: Act faster, louder and better," says lead actress Irina Lindt. "And he doesn't say anything else. Initially we thought: Can we really be so bad?"

But it wasn't long before Lindt, who usually works under the thumb of Taganka Theater director Yury Lyubimov, came around to the Englishman's charismatic approach.

"Russian directors are more meticulous," she says, explaining that with Adams they have a lot more independence and influence on the musical's development. "There's a good vibe here. We like the singing, the acting and the work."

For Shchukin Theater School graduate Lindt, this is not only the first time she's worked with a British director, but the first time she's been involved in a musical. The same goes for nearly all of the cast members. It's a genre that has only just begun to feature in the courses offered at Russian theatrical institutes. Russia produces actors, singers and dancers in abundance - but rarely in one and the same package.

"The singers had wonderful voices, the dancers were great dancers, but there was no sort of amalgamation between them at all," says lead actor, Jay Marcus recalling a 1993 production of "West Side Story" on his last visit to Moscow.

Composer Andrew J. Wight, who takes an active role in rehearsals, offers a more technical explanation. The "material difference between musicals and a razzmatazz show," he says, is that in a musical "the music and choreography are an integral part of the plot. Music is secondary to plot and characterization."

"They've worked it out," he adds.

And there's plenty to work out. Until recently, rehearsals ran in Russian. When the switch was made to English, things slowed down dramatically. Adams was worried.

"Most British actors act to feel. Moscow actors feel to act. English actors will get the script right the night before and learn it. They're much faster," says the former artistic director of the Birmingham Repertory theater, Britain's largest regional theater. "Here, I found things going much more slowly. "

He remains undaunted, however, by the dimensions of the task.He describes his cast as "one of the best I've ever worked with," comparing himself to a "boy with new toys."

"They've got a totally different approach, a totally different way of working. It's a nightmare. It's a dream. It's both."

- Oliver Ready