Musical Theater Becoming More Popular In Germany
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Broadway may be considered "Mecca" when it comes to commercial musical theater -- London's West End is a close second. But continue east in Europe and you'll find another country that celebrates this art form just as much as we do.
From the Tony Award winning musical "The Lion King" to a revamped version of Disney's "Tarzan" and even the world premiere of "Rocky," Hamburg, Germany certainly packs a punch when it comes to the international commercial stage.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS paved the way for the mega-musical in Germany when it was translated into German and opened in Hamburg back in 1986.
Following CATS, "The Phantom of the Opera" took the port city by storm in the early 1990s. In recent years "Mamma Mia!" and "Sister Act" have also graced the Hamburg stages.
Stephan Jaekel, spokesman for one of Europe's leading commercial theater presenters, Stage Entertainment, says musical theater spells big business in Germany.
"A lot of people are probably not aware that Germany has such a young musical history," Jaekel said. "But for Hamburg, we are playing a predominant role because we are good for more than 2 million visitors per year."
"The Lion King" is about to enter its eleventh year in Hamburg at the Theater in the Harbor, which is accessible by ferry boat. An updated, more atmospheric version of "Tarzan" has been running since 2008 as well.
Most recently, Stage Entertainment teamed up with Sylvester Stallone to present the musical version of the 1976 film "Rocky." The show had its world premiere on Nov. 18 and Stallone was on hand for the unveiling.
"People must understand that this is a love story," Stallone said. "This is not a sporting event -- this is not about boxing. He's a boxer, but it's really about heart and about love."
Hamburg aside, Stage Entertainment owns and operates seven other theaters all around Germany and is presenting productions of "Rebecca," "Sister Act," "Dance of the Vampires" and more.
About three hours southwest of Hamburg in Bochum, Germany, Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Starlight Express" has been rolling strong since 1988.
The production -- which has welcomed more than 14 million visitors since its debut -- is in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing in the same theater for almost a quarter of a century.
"Starlight Express" is being presented by Mehr Entertainment, a commercial competitor to Stage Entertainment. Maik Klokow heads Mehr Entertainment and attributes the success of "Starlight Express" to an early publicity appearance on a local German television show.
"A live TV show happens here in the auditorium," Klokow said. "So we invited them to record this show, and it was shown on public TV."
"The next day, of course, our call center -- everything was exploding."
While both Mehr Entertainment and Stage Entertainment say they are always looking for new and exciting projects for the German audience, Jaekel sums up what his company looks for when it comes to taking on a new show.
"You can have great music and you can have great actors," he said. "But if it's not a great sort, if the book isn't convincing -- people won't like it either.