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The Warsaw Voice » Society » September 30, 2009
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Making dreams come true
September 30, 2009   
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Wojciech Kępczyński, general and artistic director of the Roma Musical Theater, talks to Marzena Robinson.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera is returning to the Roma after the vacation break and its 400th performance will take place Oct. 17. So far, each show has had a full house of almost 1,000. Did you expect such success with this musical?
Not as big, no. Of course, we do our best to prepare our shows to the best of our ability and always set our standards high, but we never assume they will be a great success, though secretly hoping they will. This time we filled a niche-the huge thirst of Polish audiences for a romantic story told with beautiful music and an extraordinary stage production.

How long do you plan to continue running The Phantom?
As long as demand lasts. It would be hard to take off a show that enjoys such huge popularity. I hope we continue to stage it till the end of April, maybe the end of May next year, because we need time to prepare our next premiere, Claude-Michel Schönberg's musical Les Miserables.

You said in our previous interview that after The Phantom, you wanted to produce something light and happy. But you are holding auditions for Les Miserables. Why such a choice?
The success of every premiere leads to the reflection that there is less and less time to make our dreams come true. We've been playing The Phantom of the Opera for over two years, and there's no way of telling how long the next show will play. Meanwhile, I have four musicals I believe to be the greatest examples of the genre. We have already staged three: [Claude-Michel Schönberg's] Miss Saigon and Lloyd Webber's Cats and The Phantom. The fourth show is Les Miserables; I have long dreamed of staging it but I'm afraid I might run out of time, I might lack the strength.

I really want to produce this musical, also because of the timeless message it conveys, one people need today. For the more distant future, we plan to stage a Polish musical based on Leopold Tyrmand's novel Zły [published in English as The Man With the White Eyes], which we are still writing. In future we also hope to stage something really light, like Saturday Night Fever or Dirty Dancing, as there's such huge demand in Poland for dancing shows of this kind.

Those are fairly distant plans. Is there any chance of more variety in your repertoire?
That's our biggest problem actually, because as I said, when tickets to a show are sold out two months in advance, we can't stop playing it. These days, when subsidies are being reduced, it's tougher and tougher to find sponsors and we have less and less money, that would be suicide.

Initially the Roma Theater was meant to be a repertory theater and we had several shows in our repertoire. Every time we had to stop playing Cats, for example, to make room for a new premiere, the public protested that they wanted to continue coming to that show.

We are a strange kind of entity, the same type as a West End theater or a Broadway theater, where one show is played, but at the same time we should be fulfilling our mission as a repertory theater and alternating the shows we stage. Our difficult situation is caused by the fact that there are very few musical theaters in Poland. London's West End has several dozen of them and each one plays a particular show for many years.

Besides, our productions are extraordinarily complicated technically. Taking down the decorations for The Phantom of the Opera would mean halting performances altogether, as we wouldn't be able to set them up again. If that weren't problem enough, we have nowhere to store them. We rent a huge hall near Warsaw where we keep parts of the sets for Cats and Akademia Pana Kleksa in the hope we might play them again.

The success of Akademia Pana Kleksa showed there was huge demand for children's musicals. Have you thought about reviving that show or staging other shows for youngsters?
I'd love to, but I ask for just one thing: please give me a few more stages. We wanted to produce Akademia Pana Kleksa at the Torwar arena, but we were half a million zlotys short. The Allianz Group has always been a wonderful sponsor for us, together with its president Paweł Dangel, who believes strongly in our theater. Nevertheless, the crisis is getting to us all.

We have a license to stage The Lion King, the great hit musical for children, but we would need another large stage. Of course there are too few productions of this kind in Warsaw and it's a great shame we can't stage such shows.

Have you ever thought of gaining access to extra stages, for example at other theaters?
Of course, and we were almost successful. Zabrze has a Song and Dance Theater seating 2,500 and a stage that isn't being fully utilized. There are crowds of potential spectators in the huge Silesian conurbation. We wanted to produce a revival of Cats there, we were also going to play Akademia. Talks were at an advanced stage, but it all came to nothing in the end, I'm not really sure why, frankly speaking. Maybe our demands were too great, maybe the scale we planned for the Cats revival was too overpowering. We also had our eyes on Torwar, but the costs turned out to be beyond our means. Warsaw's cultural policy today involves cutting our subsidies. Somebody has decided that since we are so successful, then maybe we don't need public money all that badly.

Is it true that despite all this, the public can expect new attractions at the Roma Theater this season?
November will see the long anticipated but-due to money shortages-constantly delayed official opening of the Nova Stage, our small stage. Two performances linked to the Remembering Osiecka Song Competition will be staged there in October: the musical show Dobranoc Panowie [Goodnight Gentlemen] featuring prize-winners of earlier competitions and a show written by the artistic supervisor of the Nova Stage, Jerzy Satanowski, with music by Krzysztof Komeda, about poet Agnieszka Osiecka and writer Marek Hłasko.

Generally speaking, this is meant to be a venue where a lot is happening, where big names will appear, for example from the Actor's Song Festival in Wrocław. There will be lots of premieres, musical shows, concerts and recitals, and we will present directing and acting debuts there. I have high hopes for this stage.

You turned 60 in July and last year you celebrated your 10th year as the Roma's director. What can we wish you and your theater?
First and foremost, a financial partner for Les Miserables so that we can stage our newest premiere. More stages and a revival of Akademia Pana Kleksa and Cats. For audiences to continue to want to see The Phantom of the Opera as they have till now. For the Nova Stage to open successfully, for it to stage many fascinating meetings and shows. And for the decision-makers at City Hall to maintain the subsidies they have planned for us at the moment, reduced as these are. Is that a lot? I'm allowed to dream on my birthday!
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