A taste of Broadway in new Vienna musical 'Rudolf'

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 4, 2009 at 5:11 AM EDT

An original production for the Vienna stage with a Tony-award winning team has once again tackled Hapsburg history in song and dance... and the result is being called majestic.

"Rudolf - Affaire Mayerling," which premiered last week at Vienna's Raimund Theater, is a dramatic tale of love, intrigue and empire with a stirring score that recalls such musicals as "Evita" or "Les Miserables".

Composed by the Tony-nominated Frank Wildhorn, with original book and lyrics by Jack Murphy, "Rudolf" first opened in Hungarian in Budapest in 2006, before running in Tokyo in a Japanese version.

But, says Wildhorn, "it was never intended to start anywhyere but here."

The Vereinigte Buehnen Wien, Vienna's musical producing company which made the successful "Elisabeth" about another Hapsburg -- Rudolf's mother -- in 1992, approached Wildhorn during the hit run of his musical "Jekyll & Hyde" and asked him to do an original piece for the Austrian audience.

Based on Frederic Morton's novel "A Nervous Splendour: Vienna, 1888-1889," "Rudolf" is the story of a man trapped by duty and convention who refuses to give up his ideals.

Reform-minded but tormented, Crown Prince Rudolf, the heir to the Hapsburg throne, finds solace in the young Baroness Mary Vetsera, eventually committing suicide with her at his hunting retreat in Mayerling.

The German-language production, edited and expanded from its earlier versions by British director David Leveaux, is sleek and polished thanks in part to a widely international cast and crew.

Wildhorn has received multiple Tony nominations for such works as "The Civil War" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel".

Leveaux won three Tony awards and was nominated for many more for Broadway productions like "Jumpers", "The Real Thing" and "NINE" with Antonio Banderas.

Australian John O'Connell choreographed Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge", "Romeo + Juliet" and "Strictly Ballroom" as well as the 2008 Oscar ceremony.

And set designer Mike Britton, costume designer Laura Hopkins and light designer Patrick Woodroffe have all worked on numerous productions in London's West End and around Britain.

The multi-national cast comes from Austria, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, while lead actor Drew Sarich, from the United States, was last seen in "Les Miserables" in the West End.

"Rudolf" is a rock-opera in the true tradition of epic Broadway musicals, with hits like the ballads "So Viel Mehr" (So much more) and "Vertrau in Uns" (Trust in Us), and Rudolf's stirring "Mut zur Tat" (Courage to Act).

"Here in Europe more than in the States, there's a love of melody, of romanticism, or drama" Wildhorn told AFP.

"In recent years, Broadway musicals haven't been about music... they haven't been about big huge sweeping scores."

"Rudolf" however retains a very European character.

"It's important to make a show for where you are," says Leveaux.

And German "is a wonderful language to do a musical in... There's a toughness, an immediacy which makes a certain kind of story great to hear in that language."

A few songs could easily be cut from the production and critics may argue about historical inaccuracies, but the musical balances love story and political intrigue, Rudolf's constrained life at the Hapsburg court and his freedom outside where he visits brothels and writes critical articles for a liberal newspaper.

"Our job is not to put on a museum piece... our job is to tell a deeper truth," sayss Leveaux.

Sarich as the tormented Rudolf, newcomer Lisa Antoni as the young and wilful Mary Vetsera, and Uwe Kroeger as the sinister and manipulative Prime Minister Count Eduard Taaffe have all won praise, with equally strong performances from the supporting cast and sumptuous costumes and sets.

"I want the audience on its feet, standing and clapping until the lights go out," Wildhorn said ahead of the premiere.

Mission accomplished.




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