China / Life

Classic Broadway musical given Chinese character

By Chen Nan (China Daily) Updated: 2017-08-21 07:54

The dark tale of Jekyll and Hyde, which is about a London doctor in the 19th century who suffers from a split personality, is a classic Broadway musical.

Released in 1997 and based on the novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, which was first published in 1886, the award-winning musical was written by Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse.

On July 28, a Mandarin adaptation of this musical made its debut at the Shanghai Grand Theater, where it is being staged through Aug 31.

The musical will then transfer to the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center in Beijing from Sept 8 to 29.

 Classic Broadway musical given Chinese character

The Chinese adaptation of Broadway musical Jekyll and Hyde will be staged in Beijing in September. Set in 19th-century London, the musical tells the story of a doctor who suffers from schizophrenia. Photos Provided to China Daily

Set in Victorian-era London, the musical tells the story of a doctor, Henry Jekyll, who conducts an experiment on himself, which leads to the emergence of his double personality, named Edward Hyde.

In the daytime, he is a respectable doctor but when night falls he turns into a ruthless criminal.

The Chinese production, directed and choreographed by David Swan, has 24 Chinese actors and a 13-member orchestra, playing 32 classic songs translated from the Broadway musical hits, including This Is the Moment, Once Upon A Dream and Someone Like You.

"There were two main challenges: the translation and dealing with the cultural differences," says Swan, the American director.

"This is more difficult and more important than many may realize. The goal is for it to be as powerful and beautiful as the original, but for it to also seem as natural as though Chinese were its original language."

"There have been no big changes such as adding scenes, or cutting a song, but we have made some changes to the lyrics and dialogue to be able to tell the story naturally, clearly and poignantly in Chinese, as well as other relatively small changes so it feels natural for the Chinese actors and audience," the director adds.

The musical Jekyll and Hyde is the first that Swan has directed in China. He has directed the musical in a few places around the world, such as South Korea in 2004.

He first saw the musical in the summer of 1990 and was impressed with the power of the show and the music.

"This story speaks to a truth about the human condition that is both universal and powerful. None of us are perfect. We all have parts of ourselves that we are not proud of and try to hide or ignore. How we deal with our faults and weaknesses and whether we let them overcome us is something we all must deal with," says Swan.

"The truth of that situation is something everyone can relate to and can be something that can both move an audience and make them think."

Shanghai-based company, CC Live Entertainment, the presenter of the musical, gathered together the team behind the Chinese version of blockbuster musicals, such as Cats and Mamma Mia!

Zhou Xiaowei, the associate director, who translated the script and lyrics, says: "We spent over two years preparing for the musical, and translation was one of the key parts. We have tried to make every line as meaningful as possible. While we have kept the original setting of the story in Victorian London, we have kept an eye on certain relations and interactions so they feel as familiar to Chinese audiences as possible."

Zhou also notes that with musicals becoming a popular theater genre in China over the past decade, the company will introduce more Chinese adaptations of classic Western musicals, such as Les Miserables and 42nd Street.

Speaking about the cast, Swan says: "I have been extremely impressed with the capabilities of the Chinese actors and crew.

"I believe we have been able to achieve quite a high level of sophistication in the show due to the great work and talent of all involved. So even though the industry is still young in China, I believe it has the potential to progress quickly."

Chinese actors, Liu Lingfei, a musical major student from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and Zheng Yunlong, who graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy and majored in musical performance, play the roles of Jekyll and Hyde.

Referring to his role, Liu says: "This is the most challenging role I've played because I sing 30 of the 32 songs. It feels like running a marathon."

Liu has acted in a number of Chinese musical productions, including the Chinese version of Cats and an original Chinese musical, Love U, Teresa.

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