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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » February 6, 2008
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Phantom Arrives at the Roma
February 6, 2008    wersja polska »
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Warsaw's Roma Music Theater is preparing to put on a Polish version of The Phantom of the Opera, a musical by British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber that has been breaking box-office records around the world for over two decades. This will be the first time the musical will be staged in Poland. The opening night is March 15 and the production has been directed by Wojciech Kępczyński, the managing and artistic director of the Roma theater.

Wojciech Kępczyński talked to Marzena Robinson.

This will be your own creative rendition of the musical rather than the ready-made stage version that is usually sold by the composer's management agency. Why do you think Lloyd Webber decided to make an exception for the Roma and let you direct your own version of the musical?
I think this is mainly thanks to the huge success of our version of Cats, another musical by Lloyd Webber that was staged for the first time at the Roma in 2004. This probably explains why we received permission for a non-replica production of The Phantom of the Opera. What's more, we are now a partner of The Really Useful Group (RUG) and Cameron Macintosh, companies that represent Lord Lloyd-Webber's interests. This is extremely pleasant proof of their respect and trust in our theater, and knowing that we can design our own version of The Phantom of the Opera is very exciting. To cut short any speculation: we are not turning everything upside down. We are transferring the interiors of the magnificent Garnier Opera in Paris on a 1:1 scale to the Roma's stage and auditorium. We want to recreate the musical's 19th-century atmosphere extremely accurately. This applies to the costumes, makeup, hairstyles, wigs and all kinds of staging techniques. All this will be filtered through 21st-century theater technology and prepared on a grand scale. Among other tasks, we are working on a huge, 200-kilogram chandelier. We have also expanded the orchestra, which will number over 30 musicians.

How exactly will the Polish version of The Phantom of the Opera differ from the original show that has been staged unchanged for years?
I don't want to reveal too many details because many theatergoers probably already know the show; after all, some 80 million people have seen it in so many cities around the world. But I can say, for example, that the show relies on new original costumes designed by Magda Tesławska. We also plan to use some innovative stage design, choreography and technical elements that are sure to surprise and astonish the audience, even those who already know the musical.

Does that mean Lloyd Webber's agency has given you a great deal of leeway in producing the show?
Stage designer Paweł Dobrzycki and I visited RUG on Tower Street in London to present our idea for the show. During a meeting that lasted many hours, we discussed the production scene after scene, and talked about all the actors approved for the production and the entire promotion business, and so on. We had to have their consent to everything. At the present stage, we don't have to consult them on every detail, but we do need to have their approval for any major changes.

The actors playing the lead roles have been approved by Lloyd Webber himself. How did you select the Polish cast, and did you spot a lot of new musical talent in the process?
Every new show, including that produced at our theater, requires auditions. Everyone has to go through them, regardless of whether they are big names or completely unknown artists. Over 300 people showed up for the first casting call in May. The first trials, meetings and auditions for the performers took almost six months. Right now we have the whole cast in place. More than half are people who have worked with the Roma, but there are quite a few debuting artists, too. For example, Christine will be played by two absolute novices, Paulina Janczak from ŁódĽ and Kaja Mianowana from Lublin. Both are 19 years old. The same part will also be played by Edyta Krzemień, who has already appeared at the Music Theater in Chorzów and has the most stage experience. It may be too early to say this, but I think these are very talented people who will contribute substantially to music theater.

Is it true that the Polish Christine was the toughest to find, even though over 100 candidates vied for the part?
This is an extremely difficult role composed for a very big voice, from really low tones to a very high C. Few people have that kind of scale. The part was written for Lloyd Webber's wife at the time, Sara Brightman, but there are really very few voices like hers in the world. The young women we chose to play Christine have the scale but not as powerful voices as Brightman's. However, we are working continually and intensively on those voices, and also on the choreography and spoken lines.

The opening night of The Phantom of the Opera coincides with your 10 years as the Roma theater's managing director. Are you satisfied with what you have achieved over the past decade?
The great Polish actor Gustaw Holoubek once said that if an artist is satisfied with himself, he is no longer an artist. I have reasons to be happy, and I would like the theater to continue developing.

While seeking the position of the theater's managing director, I had plans to change the Roma from an operetta theater into a musical theater. Though musicals had been staged here before, the main focus was on classic operetta. With all due respect for operetta, I think its place is in an opera theater such as the Wielki Theater, where they need those kinds of great voices. What the capital of a large country in the center of Europe needs in the 21st century is a genuine musical theater. The thousands of people at our shows over the past 10 years testify to this.

My successes over this time include getting rid of the debt that the theater had when I was taking over, and securing a stable financial position for the Roma. I have managed to put together a wonderful ensemble that some journalists say is the best musical company in Poland. I have also managed to stage the first Polish productions of several world-famous shows such as Miss Saigon, Cats, Crazy for You and Grease as well as Roman Polanski's Dance of the Vampires, not to mention two purely Polish premiere productions, Peter Pan and Akademia Pana Kleksa (Mr. Kleks' Academy).

The theater has changed greatly over those 10 years, finding a strong footing for itself. We boast some state-of-the-art outfitting, both lighting and acoustic equipment. However, regardless of the scope of restructuring and the care taken to have good PR, promotion and advertising strategies, we wouldn't have been able to develop the theater to what it is today if our shows weren't of the highest standard and weren't received so enthusiastically.

You said once that staging The Phantom of the Opera was your greatest dream. Now that this dream has nearly come true, what is your next dream?
After the premiere of The Phantom of the Opera I'd like to see our audience smiling. We have just finished a four-hour rehearsal of the final scene and everybody cried. As for artistic matters, maybe after all those vampires and phantoms it's time to relax a little. I dream of a dancing, happy, colorful show with hit songs, something like Mamma Mia. We have been trying to get this show for a few years-to no avail. I don't know why, but for now we haven't been able to obtain the rights. If not Mamma Mia, then we are also considering Saturday Night Fever and a return to the 1970s, or maybe Dirty Dancing. The whole of Poland has been crazy about dancing recently, and dance is very popular with audiences. That's roughly the direction we want to take. At the same time, we are thinking together with Daniel Wyszogrodzki, the Roma's literary manager, about a new Polish musical, perhaps not a family show this time but one for grownups. But it's too early yet to talk about any details.

Aren't you tempted by genres other than the musical?
We are a music theater and should stick to music genres. That means musicals above all. Soon, though, the Roma will open its Nova Scena stage. This will be a venue for slightly different, more alternative kinds of music theater, where the focus will be on singing actors, auteur shows with big-name actors, musical and theatrical experiments. That stage will be supervised by Jerzy Satanowski, the great Polish composer and director of music productions.

The Warsaw Voice is the media patron of the event.
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