They have cheered in their droves at Les Miserables, tapped their feet to 42nd Street and purred their delight at Cats. Now Beijing is to cement its love of musicals by building “China’s new Broadway,” a complex of 32 theaters to rival those of New York and London.
The Beijing Daily newspaper announced on Tuesday that the city’s sprawling northwest suburb of Haidian — home to schools and universities, as well as the prestigious high-tech industrial park of Zhongguancun — is to demolish another chunk of aging tenements over the next six months to make room for the complex, which will include a flagship theater with a capacity of 2,000, and another 31 venues of various shapes, styles and sizes capable of holding between 300 and 500 people.
The complex will become “a Chinese Broadway base for composers, writers, performers and actors in training,” a spokesman for the developer said.
In recent years, Beijing has had the opportunity to taste lavish productions by the UK’s Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as painstaking translations of Chekhov, but the new theater complex appears to be aiming for the more profitable middle-brow audience. The Sound of Music has been popular in the capital for decades and more recently, shows by Andrew Lloyd Webber have been drawing big crowds in both Beijing and Shanghai.
There are already plenty of Western producers keen to play a part in China’s cultural development and claim a share in the gate receipts that might accompany it.
British impresario Sir Cameron Mackintosh — the producer of Lloyd Webber’s Cats as well as the West End blockbusters Les Miserables and Miss Saigon — signed an agreement with the China Arts and Entertainment Group last year to bring his musicals to China.
And the Beijing Shibo Group has entered into a separate agreement with Broadway company Nederlander to bring popular US musicals to China. Nederlander has already showed its willingness to cross the cultural divide by staging a translated production of the hit show Fame, in collaboration with local partners.
Beijing Shibo said it is planning to stage as many as 100 musicals at the new facilities, once construction is completed.
But in an editorial in the culture section of the People’s Daily, there was some lament over the end of an era. In Beijing’s theatrical heyday, venues were spread throughout the suburbs and were designed to bring enjoyment to the masses in a convenient way.
“In those days, residents living near the theatre either had to only walk a small distance or could even stay in their own street to watch a show. The theaters were built right next to their home,” the paper said.