23 heinäkuuta 2012

Marie Antoinette

Und dann erträumt man eine bess're Zeit
und kämpft für "Freiheit" und "Gerechtigkeit".
Dann brennen Paläste, dann watet man durch Blut
und glaubt, dadurch wird die Welt gut.

Marie Antoinette is the newest musical by librettist Michael Kunze and composer Sylvester Levay (Elisabeth, Mozart!, Rebecca). Kunze's musicals are popular in Japan, and Marie Antoinette was written on commission by the big Japanese theatre company Toho. The story is based on a Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo. The musical premiered in Tokio in 2006, and the first production outside Japan was in 2009 in Bremen, Germany. Currently a re-worked production is playing in an open-air theatre in Tecklenburg, Germany. There's a Japanese complete cast recording and a highlights recording from Bremen, plus a printed libretto of the Bremen production and a songbook in German.

The story tells about Marie Antoinette, the famous queen of France, and Margrid Arnaud, an orphan girl living in the gutter and dreaming of a better, more equal world. They and pretty much everyone else in the musical want to be something they're not: Marie Antoinette wants to be free to love Count Axel von Fersen, Margrid wants to be rich and pampered like Marie Antoinette, King Louis wants to be a normal man, Count von Orléans wants to be the king... Like often in Kunze's musicals, the story is very much about a human being's inability to choose their life and fate against expectations and roles, and their striving for something they can never reach or for what they have to pay a price bigger than it's worth. Also, nothing is black-and-white: Marie Antoinette isn't a complete bitch like it's sometimes thought, but a (very spoiled and self-centered) human being and the product of her position and upbringing. In the end she does become a real queen, though.

Der Mensch ist stark, wenn man ihm Illusionen lässt.

Roberta Valentini as Marie Antoinette.
© Musical Theater Bremen
Religions, idealism and, obviously, revolutionary mentality are also big topics in MA. From her hate to Marie Antoinette, Margrid rises to be a revolution leader of some kind, but during the course of the story her belief in the revolution starts to shake, when she sees how murderous and revengeful also the "good side" can get and how people on the other hand have to be paid to form a demonstration. The narrator of the story, Count Cagliostro, keeps commenting sarcastically both the idealistic Margrid and the silly Marie Antoinette. Cagliostro constantly mocks people's need to believe in something, were it a god, a better future, someone's good intentions or the power of people.

The problem of the storyline seems to be that there are too many moving parts in it, and some of them are a bit forgotten. For example, through the whole musical it's pretty obvious that Margrid is the bastard daughter of Marie Antoinette's father, which of course highlights the difference of their life, but somehow it isn't fully used in the plot. I like the way Margrid is woven in the historical events like the infamous necklace affair or the royal family's imprisonment, but I feel there's still something missing from the relations between her and Marie Antoinette.

Anna Thorén & Sabrina Weckerlin.
© Freilichtspiele Tecklenburg
At some point Margrid also seems to become a prostitute, which somehow saves her from the gutter, and I'm not sure if I'm just happy that she doesn't sing the usually obligatory "Song of a Good-Hearted Prostitute Dreaming of a Better Life" or if I'd want her to reflect on the choice of profession at least somehow. Perhaps she's just so tough that it doesn't really matter for her what she does for living, which would actually be very refreshing when it comes to the topic of musical heroines in brothels.

Then there's Count Cagliostro, the narrator. I fangirl narrator characters when they work in the story, and though I fangirl Cagliostro, it's almost solely because of his opening solo 'Illusionen', because he could have something more and better to do in the musical. Anyone having seen Elisabeth will compare Cagliostro to Lucheni, and while Lucheni is basically the king of all sarcastic narrators, Cagliostro's role needs some improving. It also feels like Kunze wanted to re-use the narrative pattern that works excellently in Elisabeth, but in Marie Antoinette it would need some re-thinking.

Warum kann ich nicht statt Geschichte etwas Nützliches machen?

The music and lyrics of Marie Antoinette are mostly excellent, however, and the songs are the main reason why I like the musical so much. The text is full of little witty and deep gems, and the big solos, duets and ensemble numbers are great. I could paper my walls with lyrics of 'Illusionen' (Illusions), 'Warum muss ich sein was ich nicht bin' (Why must I be what I'm not), or 'Blind vom Licht' (Blinded by light). The glue and bridges between the big scenes need some rethinking, though, because at times they feel needless or too obviously just linking two scenes together. The Tecklenburg production has gotten some new songs and people have commented that the story flows better, so clearly also the makers are aware of the musical's need of little polishing. Generally Kunze and Levay keep making changes in their musicals if they notice something doesn't work, but I feel that MA was rather half-ready when it hit the stage in Bremen.

Sabrina Weckerlin as Margrid, with Yngve Gasoy-Romdal
as Cagliostro. © Freilichtspiele Tecklenburg
The Japanese background might be one problem. I'm not very well familiar with the Japanese musical theatre culture, but based on what I've seen, they prefer their musicals more romantic and less political and are perhaps a bit less story-concentrated. MA was re-written for Germany, but they still used the Japanese director in Bremen, which definitely wasn't a good choice because of cultural differences. From my Western point of view the directing lacked imagination and was dull as heck, with people simply standing still and singing. The sets were ugly and plain and the choreographies like in a school play, which definitely didn't improve the situation. The basic material of the musical is fairly good, in my opinion, so I hope more theatres will get interested in the musical despite its flaws. A concert production could also work nicely.

The musical's (unupdated) homepage
Freilichtspiele Tecklenburg / Photos
Marie Antoinette on DramaMusicals.de
Blog of the Bremen production