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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Nord Ost' Says the Show Will Go On

APHostages lining up by the orchestra pit, which was used as a toilet, shown on film reportedly shot by the Chechen hostage-takers.
Seventeen of its staff have died, the bulk of the costumes are destroyed and three cast members are still hospitalized, but the performers of "Nord Ost" are set to get back on stage.

Two weeks after Chechens stormed the theater when the musical was in full swing, part of the cast will hold fundraising concerts at the Rossiya concert hall on Monday and Tuesday.

The shows, in the works for months and originally titled "The World's Musicals with 'Nord Ost,'" have been renamed "'Nord Ost,' We're With You," and will attempt to raise money for a revival of the virtually bankrupt show. The concerts will feature songs from "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon," "Cats," "Oliver" and "Nord Ost" -- now also a world famous musical, although for tragic reasons.

"We cannot cancel these concerts because this is our only opportunity to prove that 'Nord Ost' is alive; at the same time, it's a chance to boost morale within the troupe and, ultimately, a chance for us to raise some money," said the show's co-producer, Georgy Vasilyev, himself a former hostage.

"We really hope that people will support us and show the performers they are needed and that life goes on and that they have something to live for," said spokeswoman Daria Murganova.

The two romantic stars of "Nord Ost," Andrei Bogdanov and Yekaterina Guseva, pictured on the show's posters, are to perform a song about their characters' reunion after nine years of separation. After the crisis -- when Bogdanov was a hostage while Guseva was not -- the two say the song will have a completely new meaning for them.

"Before it was just child's play," said Guseva, speaking on NTV television's "Namedni" program Sunday. "Now I understand how to play that scene."

Even with the targeted profits from tickets, on sale for 500 to 3,000 rubles, producers fear the concerts will only help a little, as -- despite some government aid -- the hostage-crisis has left the musical financially devastated.

"'Nord' has taken a colossal blow," Vasilyev told reporters last week. "After the musical ... stopped receiving money from ticket sales, we lost practically our only life-support," said Vasilyev, adding that the show's debts were in the "millions of dollars."

Vasilyev's production company, Link, has yet to assess the damage and estimate how much it would cost to resume the show, but it is clear that many of the costumes and sets need replacing.

Some costumes were torn on the first night of the siege, as cast members fled to the second and third floors of the theater and strung together makeshift ropes that they used to escape. Others were destroyed after being used for "hygiene purposes," Murganova said.

A more expensive problem may be the sound and lighting systems -- reported to have cost up to $2 million -- and the computer-operated sets.

As possible options for reviving the musical were bounced around, there appeared to be some disagreement about how the show should be staged. While Vasilyev said he had hoped to create a new, traveling version accessible to the entire country, government officials seemed to attach special significance to returning to the once-besieged Dubrovka theater -- a symbolic victory over hostage-takers and terrorism.

Rossia / AP

A Chechen gunman standing on the "Nord Ost" stage shortly after seizing the theater.

Late Thursday, however, after a meeting of Vasilyev, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi and Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, the announcement came that "Nord Ost" would return to its prior venue, which the city government is busy repairing.

"We chose to return to the old stage ... as it will take less time, spending and human energy," Vasilyev said Friday.

Speaking two days earlier, Vasilyev had not been so keen to return, saying it would be very difficult psychologically, especially for those who had been victims of the siege, which ended in the death of at least 120 hostages.

"Just imagine how it would be to ask the orchestra to return to the pit after it was turned into an outhouse," he said.

"For many, 'Nord Ost' is synonymous with tragedy," said actor Mark Podlesny, who was on stage when the gunmen came out of the wings and started firing into the air. Podlesny added that he would find it tough to go back, "but the more important question is how it will be for [the audience]."

Despite the unease, Vasilyev acknowledged that both the musical and the theater are heavy with symbolism.

"That the terrorists chose 'Nord Ost' was no accident," said Vasilyev, adding that some of the hostage-takers had watched the musical three or four times. When he asked why they had chosen "Nord Ost," Vasilyev said, the Chechens replied: "'Because you're a Russian musical. If we had attacked 'Chicago' or 'Notre Dame,' we would in effect be attacking foreigners. We're not interested in foreign citizens, we wanted to take hostage as many Russians as possible.'"

The musical, based on Veniamin Kaverin's novel "Two Captains," tells a story of love, loyalty and Russian heroism in World War II. One of the highlights is a life-size bomber that lands onstage at the end of the show.

For Chechens, locked in a bitter war with federal troops for the better part of the past eight years, "a Russian plane is itself a symbol of hatred," Vasilyev said.

In an effort to help, the Labor Ministry has agreed to pay wages while the show is not running, and the federal government has promised 3 million rubles ($95,000) in aid -- a drop in the bucket, according to "Nord Ost" staffers.

"If we're lucky, that will just cover costumes," Murganova said.

Organizers are hoping that big business will also help out and that the show may reopen around New Year, she said.

It was not clear, though, whether the first show would be a free performance for the commandos who rescued hostages, as originally suggested by co-producer Alexander Tsekalo. Moscow city authorities ran with the idea and announced it as a done deal, although Murganova called the plan "strange," speculating that it had come on a wave of euphoria after the rescue operation. "We can't imagine all the special forces would be allowed to gather in one building. It's a little strange," she said.

"'Nord Ost,' We're With You" plays next Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tickets can be booked by calling 784-7787.

Staff Writer Natalia Yefimova contributed to this report.