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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » April 7, 2010
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Bringing Broadway to Warsaw
April 7, 2010   
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Warsaw's Roma Musical Theater has delivered international musicals to Polish audiences for over a decade, staging productions of the biggest Broadway and West End musicals.
The theater building used to house the Warsaw Operetta. In 1998, Wojciech Kępczyński took over as manager from Bogusław Kaczyński with the aim of making his dream come true and staging a Broadway-style spectacular in Poland. In a competition to find a new manager for the Roma, Kępczyński beat 20 other applicants after coming up with the idea of turning the operetta into a professional musical theater.
The beginnings were difficult, as the theater was facing bankruptcy with debts totaling zl.3 million. It had 350 staff on three-year contracts. Kępczyński put on the first musical at the Roma in 1999, teaming up with choreographer and director Janusz Józefowicz. Their production of George Gershwin's Crazy for You opened to rave reviews and went on to be played to almost full houses. Success continued in the years that followed, when the Roma premiered Miss Saigon (2000), Grease (2002), Cats (2004), The Dance of the Vampires (2005) and The Phantom of the Opera (2008). The Roma also boasts several musicals of its own, including Peter Pan (2000) and Mr. Kleks's Academy (2007).
The Roma has evolved into a model business, boasting 95-percent attendance and drawing praise from critics. Starting a new production, Kępczyński works in a way similar to that used in English-speaking countries, holding auditions to select the cast for a given production and obtaining funds from sponsors.
Since he became Roma manager and the director of most of its shows, Kępczyński has worked with the biggest names in the world of musicals, such as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Claude-Michel Schönberg and the legendary impresario Cameron Mackintosh. He earned their trust and they gave him the green light to come up with so-called non-replica productions-Polish adaptations based on the original, rather than direct translations of their work.
That was the case with one of Webber's most popular musicals, Cats. The glamorous Polish production proved a spectacular success by Polish standards-it ran 350 times, and was seen by almost 1,000 people every night.
The turnout for Roma shows was impressive, drawing a total of almost two million viewers over a decade. Then Kępczyński decided to mark the tenth anniversary of the Roma with the biggest premiere in its history. The Polish production of The Phantom of the Opera was seen by Webber himself, who was generous with praise. Over the past two years, the Warsaw production of The Phantom of the Opera has been seen by over a million viewers.
"But in the end, the time always comes to say goodbye to every show," said Kępczyński. "It always feels far too early, but we only have one stage which, sadly, is not adjusted to the needs of modern musical theater." The Roma is housed in an old, prewar building and while this makes for a unique ambiance, whenever a new show is to be put on the theater has to close for several weeks while sets are dismantled and removed.
The theater has started intensive work on a new production and will stage Les Miserables in September. But before that happens, Roma audiences are in for a treat as they are given a chance to catch the highlights of the past decade. The retrospective show featuring the biggest hits that have played at Roma so far is entitled Najlepsze z Romy (Best of Roma).
Marzena Robinson

Best of Roma: April 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27
and 28, 7 p.m.
Roma Musical Theater, 49 Nowogrodzka St. Reservations on 22 628-89-98
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