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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Is Moscow Gonna Get Its Broadway Too?




Here's what happened in 1990, the last time someone tried to launch a Broadway musical in Russia: It bombed in Moscow, it bombed abroad and composer-director Yuly Vzorov, a U.S.-based emigr? who'd thought "Russians on Broadway" would prove his ticket to fame and fortune, walked out on the project - leaving a troupe of unknown Russian actors alone and penniless in the middle of Canada.


But that was yesterday.


Meet "Tomorrowland," a show with a formula potent enough, if some very real problems are surmounted , to make musical history in Moscow when it opens Saturday at the Novaya Opera.


Pulling the strings behind an almost exclusively Russian cast of young talent are top British director John Adams, musical debutant Andrew J. Wight and producer Charles Stephens, whose staging credits include Andrew Lloyd Webber screamers "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera."


In tune with its bi-cultural concept, "Tomorrowland" will also play some nights in Russian, although the songs will be performed throughout the two-week run in English.


It's a project that comes with mayoral endorsement, something which likely smoothed the musical's passage to the prestigious and superbly equipped Novaya Opera. Back in the preliminary stages, Wight had some of the tracks recorded by the Bolshoi Theater and brought the CD to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.


"He particularly liked the rocky number 'Capitalism,'" Wight recalls. "I don't know how much you can read into that."


If all goes to plan, the resulting musical will rock not just Moscow, but London, too, with West End theaters already showing interest.


But when, and if, "Tomorrowland" makes it abroad, it'll already be a different show. The Novaya Opera, with its full orchestra, booming acoustics and articulated stage offers a unique venue for an event that promises to be more pop than Pavarotti.


"We've got a 40-piece orchestra and a 16-piece rhythm section," Wight says. "You can't do that in London. It would cost an arm and a leg."


Orchestral power can also come at the expense of the singers, however, and at rehearsals this week acoustic imbalance looked to be one of the major sticking-points - along with the minor fact that some of the arrangements had yet to be written.


"The Novaya Opera is built for big voices to bounce off the wall," says lead actor Jay Marcus, who made his name in the West End playing Joe Gillis in "Sunset Boulevard." The noises that will be bouncing off the Novaya Opera's wooden panels will be a potpourri of rock, pop and big ballads - with some bossanova and samba thrown in for good measure.


"Everyone will have a favorite song, but I guarantee it won't be the same one," says Wight, an amateur musician who cut his teeth on the '70s London discotheque scene.


Plotwise, "Tomorrowland," set against the backdrop of Moscow 1993 when the tanks were on the street, promises to be true to the hallowed genre, with a mixture of the brash, the comic and the cheesy. Watching this love story, cynics should take precautions against attacks of bile. Softies might end up manning the waterworks.


Marcus, the only Westerner in the cast, plays American naif Merc, who is bent on winning the favor of ambitious, hard-nosed Russian gal Katya. When the Merc smooths into town, she's trying to make it as a restaurant entrepreneur in the new Russia, but how will she deal with her confused relationship with shady business associate Tolya?


For story and co-lyric writer Winston Shaw, "Tomorrowland" is not just a Broadway formula. He conceived it as a social and cultural "documentary" seen from an American perspective. It deals, he says, with "what's going on with ordinary Russians on the street."


With Moscow 1999 itself turning into a theater for ever more terrifying explosions, the timing of the musical, with its background of civil unrest, is prescient - or unfortunate, depending on your sensibilities.


"People don't know what happened then," Wight says of the events of '93. "There were thousands of people on the streets, bullets; people got shot. But this is not a political piece. It uses dramatic events as a canvas, a backdrop."


Joining Marcus on center stage is Irina Lindt, the newfound diva of Yury Lyubimov's Taganka Theater. For Lindt, the Moscow world of "Tomorrowland," in which Katya attempts to turn a Soviet stolovaya into a brash, Western-style diner, has the ring of truth. "It's a typical situation for people in Moscow now. People find they've got nothing, especially the young, and they seek a place for themselves. I understand my character very well because in our time, you have to be strong."


"It's not important whether it's 1993 or the '80s or 2000. It's not about how events developed in Moscow. It's about the relationship between two people and about people in general, who chooses what."


With her flowing blond hair and sharp features, Lindt looks the perfect complement to Marcus' boyish, Colgate-kid looks. They even share the same favorite track, the ballad "Suddenly."


But that's where the similarities end. Marcus, Adams, Wight and Co. have embarked on a project in which Russian performers have been given three months to adapt to a genre that is largely alien to them. Dramatic actors by profession, they are training on the job.


"When we started, Russians said they didn't have this genre," says Wight. "That was true. They either do song-and-dance or straight drama or cabaret. They don't do musicals."


Although touring Western musicals have come to Moscow, the form has not developed its own roots here, and attempts to challenge the status quo have rarely succeeded.


Nevertheless, as producer Stephens says, there is a real "thirst for musicals" here. Witness "Jesus Christ Superstar," which has been shown 1,000 times at the Mossoviet Theater, Grigory Gurvich's cult Bat Cabaret or Mark Zakharov's Lenkom Theater, with its emphasis on sheer spectacle.


As a Western-style musical based on and in Russia, "Tomorrowland" will undoubtedly signal a new stage in the musical's history in Moscow.


It's also the first such show that has been tailored largely for the expat audience, with ticket prices rendering it out of range for most of the Russian public.


It's that same public, of course, that, in Wight's words, gives the show its cachet.


"Russia's a good selling-point," he says. "It's in the news. Whether it's good or bad news, it's in the news."


Cynical? Exciting? Woefully misled? Whatever the final verdict, "Tomorrowland" will be news.


"Tomorrowland" opens this Saturday at 7 p.m. and runs through Oct. 2 at the Novaya Opera Theater, 3 Karetny Ryad. Metro: Chekhovskaya. It runs in English at 7 p.m. Fri. and at 2 and 7 p.m. Thu., Sat. and Sun.; in Russian (with music still sung in English) at 7 p.m. Tue. and Wed. No shows Mon. Tel. for reservations: 973-0619. Ticket prices on first and last night: $100. Other evenings from $25. Matinee from $10. Web site: http.//www.tomorrowland.ru.