"Rebecca" in Stuttgart - a review

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"Rebecca" in Stuttgart - a review

Post  Josephine on Mon Dec 31, 2012 6:45 am

“Rebecca”, December 29th 2012, Stuttgart or: I take back anything bad I’ve ever said about Pia Douwes


Introduction:

To use Frank Crawley’s words, “Meine Meinung ist nicht wichtig, doch ich sprech sie offen aus”. It is true that I mostly leave writing reviews to others who have seen the respective show more often and / or have greater background knowledge. However, as I am probably one of the first among you to see this particular show (not to mention that it’s one of my all-time favourite German musicals), I felt compelled to write a review. And that’s what I’m doing just now.

A bit about “Rebecca” and me: I was introduced to the musical in April 2010 by Alexiel Ravenswood, and it was love at first sight. I have since listened to the Original Vienna Cast I don’t know how many times. I also know the English version. I’m not too familiar with the Hungarian version yet, but I’m planning to change that. I’ve read the original book, as well as the two sequels written by other authors. As recently as two weeks ago, Alexiel Ravenswood introduced me to the Stuttgart cast. My lovely mum gave me a weekend trip to Stuttgart and tickets to “Rebecca” as a Christmas present, and I was thrilled. Well, enough about me and on with the review.

Notes:

When I compare someone to “the recording”, I am referring to the Stuttgart Cast, unless stated otherwise. Also, I’m referring to Ich by her German name (rather than calling her “I”). It makes the review easier to read.

Cast:

Principals:
Ich: Valerie Link
Maxim de Winter: Jan Ammann
Mrs Danvers: Pia Douwes
Bearice: Kerstin Ibald
Mrs van Hopper: Mona Graw
Jack Favell: Udo Eickelmann
Frank Crawley: Gerd Achilles
Ben: Oliver Heim

Ensemble women:
Wiebke Wötzel (Clarice), Helena Blöcker, Lena Brandt, Christina Maria Brenner, Petra Clauwens, Denise Jastraunig, Virginie Kop, Melanie Walter

Ensemble men:
Raphael Dörr (Giles / Horridge), Erwin Bruhn (Oberst Julian), Matthias Graf (Frith), Oliver Wejwar (Robert), Frederik Andersson, Christoph Apfelbeck, Christian Kerkhoff, Carl van Wegberg
Conductor: Boris Ritter

Staging:

The stating works a lot with projections, from places such as Mandeley and London to images of orchids, water rushing over stones and flames. The only scene in which I found this irritating was during the journey to London, when they showed a map to indicate the travel. I felt strangely reminded of “Indiana Jones”, which certainly was not intentional. Overall, however, it worked very well.

Manderley is dominated by a huge spiraling staircase, which is also used to divide the stage into two parts, as well as to reveal bookshelves for the scenes in the library. It is not used all the time, though. Rebecca’s rooms are splendid, just the way you’d imagine them, up to the pillows with her monogram and the elaborate dressing table.

There were many nice little touches, such as the cakes on the tables in Monte Carlo and Mrs van Hopper’s large array of suitcases. I liked the staging a lot. It showed what it had to, but it also left some things to the imagination of the audience.

And here’s the review itself. I’ve decided to structure it by character, rather than by scene:

Ich:

At first, Ich is very sweet and child-like, eager to please. She shows a gradual, believable transformation to becoming stronger and more self-confident. Maxim and she are a lovely couple, and she has a great chemistry with Beatrice, particularly in Die Stärke einer Frau.
Sadly, Valerie Link rushed over one of Ich’s (in my opinion) best lines, the subservient “Ich hoffe, wir werden Freunde” to Mrs Danvers, going straight on to telling her that she can run the household her way. I’d have preferred it if she had waited a little for Mrs Danvers’ reaction.

With Mrs Danvers, Ich is nothing short of terrified. It is easy to imagine that she’d follow her “suggestion” which costume to wear, just to gain her approval for once. She’s close to jumping out of the window even before Nur ein Schritt, just so she can get away from Mrs Danvers. After Ich’s transformation from girl to woman, their musical duel in Mrs de Winter bin ich is fantastic.

Maxim:

Jan Ammann certainly looks the part a lot more than Uwe Kröger, and as stated before, he’s great with Valerie Link as Ich. The proposal scene in particular was perfect. Ich is almost ecstatic at the idea of being Maxim’s mere secretary, just so she can be close to him. Maxim actually has to rephrase his proposal twice before Ich understands fully what he’s trying to say. Even then, she’s reluctant to accept. Interestingly enough, she mentions not fitting into his social class, even this early in the story.

He’s torn between tenderness (Zauberhaft natürlich) and almost savagery when it comes to Ich. It is clear that he admires and needs her innocence, but he also resents her for it because it’s a feeling that he himself has lost a long time ago. When he realises that the confrontation with his dark past has killed the innocence in her, he is devastated. At the end of Kein Lächeln war je so kalt, he breaks down, and Ich has to support him back to the house. This is a turning point in their relationship, and it was played exceptionally well.

Voice-wise, Jan Ammann is overall good. For reasons best known to himself, he seemed to hold back during Hilf mir durch die Nacht (regrettably so, seeing as it’s my favourite duet of Ich and Maxim), but he pulled all the stops during Kein Lächeln war je so kalt.

Mrs Danvers:

I should start this passage by saying that when I listened to the recording, I didn’t like Pia Douwes much (surprisingly, as I normally like her a lot). I thought she clung too much to Susan’s interpretation, and when she tried her own thing, it was usually for the worse. I was almost hoping that the understudy would be on. I can tell you I was in for a HUGE surprise.

Pia Douwes as Mrs Danvers is nothing short of breath-taking. She has an incredible stage presence. Whenever Mrs Danvers was on stage, every eye followed her (to the point where I had to force myself to pay attention to the other characters, as not to miss things). Partly, that was due to staging, of course, but most of it came from the actress herself.

The audience first encounters her in the Prolog. She walks onto the stage during “Und Rebeccas Geist schwebte unsichtbar”, and even during that short time, she has everyone’s attention. Every single one of her songs was spot-on. What made her interpretation of the part so special were the little touches. At the end of Sie ergibt sich nicht, for instance, she briefly clutched her lower stomach as she clasps her hands in front of her. This shows her pain at having been left alone, but it also mirrors Rebecca’s illness.

Pia Douwes’ Mrs Danvers is caught between long periods of delusion and brief moments of bitter reality. Delusion dominates at first, which explains her reaction to Ich: It’s by no means her place at Mr de Winter’s side that Mrs Danvers resents, but the threat she poses to the illusion that Rebecca will return. In Rebecca I, Mrs Danvers pretends to brush Rebecca’s hair, even holding up a hand-mirror to “show” her what she’s done. She then shows the hand-mirror to Ich, as if asking her to join in Mrs Danvers’ praise of her mistress.

When she learns the truth about Rebecca’s illness and how her mistress betrayed her never-wavering confidence, Mrs Danvers has what can only be described as a complete breakdown. Ich hör dich singen im Wind for all its shortness was an incredibly powerful scene, with Mrs Danvers standing at the window of Rebecca’s bedroom, pulling her hair out of its bun in one brief movement as a symbol for her loss of control. For a few moments at the end, the stage was plunged into a projection of orchids, giving it an almost dream-like (or rather, nightmare-like) quality. There were also some very interesting changes of lyrics. I can’t quote them exactly, but I’ll give you an English approximation: “This house is useless now, just like me” and “After Rebecca, nothing will be the same”, which foreshadows what Mrs Danvers is about to do.

After that, you may think that Manderley in Flammen couldn’t possibly have been any better. Let me tell you: It was better still. While Frank Crawley stands in the foreground, explaining what has happened while Ich and Maxim were gone, we see Mrs Danvers on the huge rotating staircase that makes up the centre of the stage, clutching a burning torch in her hand, brandishing it at Robert, who tries to pacify her (or it might have been one of the other servants, to be honest – it’s hard to tell behind the projections of flames), forcing him and the others to leave. When she finally is alone on the bottom of the staircase, she sets it on fire, step by step, retreating further and further upwards. At the top, she reaches for Rebecca’s nightgown. One more time, she caresses it, holding it in her outstretched arms tenderly as if holding the woman herself. She then throws it down into the flames and collapses on the stairs, while the entire stage is engulfed in fire. It was such an incredibly powerful scene that my mouth literally gaped open.

Given the discrepancy between my reaction to Pia’s Mes Danvers on the recording and on stage, I think she is one of the actresses whom you have to see in order to fully appreciate them. The recording does not do her justice in any way, and that is a shame. If they ever film “Rebecca”, the way they did with “Elisabeth”, I so hope we’ll get to see Pia as Mrs Danvers.

Beatrice:

Kerstin Ibald as Beatrice was one of the people I liked best in the recording. She combines the image of the brisk English country woman (even wearing classical riding habit in one scene) with tenderness and affection.

She has a lovely, very warm voice and is wonderful with Ich, just like an older sister. Her interpretation of Beatrice clearly finds her husband Giles embarrassing at times (particularly the beginning of Die lieben Verwandten sounds mostly like an apology for him), but she also sees his good sides in Was ist nur los mit ihm?.

Giles:

Giles is portrayed as a strange mixture of dotty professor in appearance and joking buffoon in manners. He is not very pleasant in Die lieben Verwandten. His whole role in that scene seems to consist of muscling in on the blossoming friendship between Ich and Beatrice. However, he redeems himself in Was ist nur los mit ihm? by showing compassion and tenderness for his distressed wife.

Mrs van Hopper:

She was very funny and totally over the top, just like she’s supposed to be. A perfect example is her reaction to her Ich’s wedding plans: She is so taken aback that she nearly falls over and has to be caught by Maxim. I’m an American woman was especially lovely.

One thing I have to criticize is that I wish they’d take out the line about Ich’s supposed tennis lessons (“Tennisstunden? Ha!”). For those of you not familiar with the book: In order to explain to Mrs van Hopper her absences when she spends time with Maxim, Ich tells her that she has started taking tennis lessons. Keeping the line in the musical is a nice nod to the book, but unless you know what it refers to, it makes no sense at all.

Jack Favell:

Udo Eickelmann was neither very good nor very bad. On top of my head, I can’t find anything to criticize about him, but likewise, he didn’t add anything to the usual interpretation of the role that made it stand out in any way. I found it a bit sad because he could have done so much more.

Frank Crawley:

Gerd Achilles was a very good Crawley, even though he doesn’t really look the part (I always imagined Crawley to be Maxim’s age, and Achilles looked a lot younger). I wish he had had a bit more stage-time because his Ehrlichkeit und Vertrauen was so good. He gave the role a nice, warm feel to it.

Ben:

I much preferred Oliver Heim’s interpretation of the part to that of Daniele Nonnis in the recording. He was softer, more child-like and likable. He had a great chemistry with Ich. The only thing I didn’t like about his interpretation was that he made Ben sound almost gleeful about Rebecca’s death. I’d rather see him relieved, even a little scared at the idea.

Robert:

I’m only including Robert because of something that I found peculiar: Is it the usual interpretation of the part to have him flaming gay? I know it’s a common background story for Frank Crawley to have him gay and secretly fond of Maxim, but for Robert, I found it weird. It added nothing to the part as such, and it made Mrs van Hopper’s capering with him and Frith during I’m an American woman rather peculiar.

Overall:
It was an amazing show. My mum and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and so did everyone else. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a performance in which the cast got standing ovations for the entire duration of the curtain calls. If you can possibly make it to Stuttgart to see “Rebecca”, do it. You won’t regret it.

Josephine

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Re: "Rebecca" in Stuttgart - a review

Post  Miss von Krolock on Thu Jan 03, 2013 12:01 am

Very surprising and cool to find a review of Rebecca here Very Happy

I also recently saw the show in Stuttgart last November, 4 times in three days!
I’ve had the CD from Vienna for years and liked some songs before, but I never really gave much attention to the show until seeing it live, which I did because I’m a huge Jan Ammann fan, so I actually travelled to Stuttgart mainly to see him in the show and he didn’t disappoint, on the contrary Very Happy

Well anyway, I had high hopes for the show and it even exceeded my expectations. Rebecca immediately got into my top 10 list of favourite shows. Great songs, great staging and great actors! I saw the show from 4 different positions in the auditorium, including front row, and I agree that the projections always worked really well.

Pia Douwes’ Mrs Danvers is caught between long periods of delusion and brief moments of bitter reality.
I agree about Pia Douwes being amazing and the delusional part of the character is definitely her thing. This was the first time I saw her live on stage, so now I understand all the hype about her. I had major goosebumps everytime she sang. In my other 3 shows I got to see Femke Soetenga in the role and she was amazing too, with a more nostalgic and bitter take on the character.

Ich hör dich singen im Wind for all its shortness was an incredibly powerful scene, with Mrs Danvers standing at the window of Rebecca’s bedroom, pulling her hair out of its bun in one brief movement as a symbol for her loss of control. For a few moments at the end, the stage was plunged into a projection of orchids, giving it an almost dream-like (or rather, nightmare-like) quality. There were also some very interesting changes of lyrics. I can’t quote them exactly, but I’ll give you an English approximation: “This house is useless now, just like me” and “After Rebecca, nothing will be the same”, which foreshadows what Mrs Danvers is about to do.
Oh I loved that scene too! The transition to the balcony with the projected flowers was amazing!
The new lyrics are:

Ich war ihr nah wie niemand sonst,
doch she verschwieg mir,
wie es um sie stand.
Mein ganzes Leben gab ich ihr,
ich liebte sie, doch sie hat mich verraten.
Rebecca, jetzt bist du nicht mehr hier,
worauf noch warten, wenn ich dich nie wieder seh‘,
sinnlos ist dieses Haus, so wie ich.
Rebecca, nach dir Rebecca,
soll nichts bleiben wie es war in Manderley.


Which means something like:

I was close to her like no one else,
but she concealed from me how she was doing.
I gave her all my life,
I loved her, but she betrayed me.
Rebecca now you’re no longer here,
no point in waiting, if I’m not going to see you again.
(...)

And the rest is just like you said.

Manderley in Flammen
It was such an incredibly powerful scene that my mouth literally gaped open.
Pretty much my reaction even after knowing what was coming! And I loved seeing everyone jumping on their seats!! Cracked me up all the time!

I saw all the roles played by at least 2 different actors, apart from Maxim and Ich, which were played by Jan Ammann and Valerie Link in all 4 shows I saw, and I didn’t find a single weak link among the understudies. Great cast overall and no wonder they immediately got a standing ovation immediately after the last chords.

Thanks for such a detailed review! It made me relive my excitement all over again!!


I’d love to see this show in London.
Honestly, I think the West End needs a break from jukebox musicals or musicals-which-used-to-be-a-movie. Who’s with me???

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Re: "Rebecca" in Stuttgart - a review

Post  Scorp on Thu Jan 03, 2013 8:45 pm

Miss von Krolock wrote:
I’d love to see this show in London.
Honestly, I think the West End needs a break from jukebox musicals or musicals-which-used-to-be-a-movie. Who’s with me???

I think it would do better in London than it would on Broadway (and Broadway might never happen now given the weird events of the past year).* Isn't that what they were aiming for originally? I believe they had the Shaftesbury in mind (which is not a great starting point, as hardly anything that goes there becomes a hit), but I can't remember what went wrong. Was the theatre unsuitable or something?

I'd like to see it tried in London, but that said, from what I know of the Austrian original (I have no idea how it's been altered since), it would need a complete overhaul to work IMHO. I found Kunze's lyrics frequently cringeworthy and Levay's music very tacky in places, and some of the choreography in the Viennese production was hideous. I'm dismayed to hear 'I'm an American Woman' is still in there. Does she still sing about baking cookies and winning at bridge? Rolling Eyes And have they removed the execrable 'Wir sind britisch'? The new lyrics you've quoted though are much better than what was in there the first time round ("wenn der Abend beginnt, singt der Wind...").

* Well...maybe it will, maybe it won't; God knows. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/rebecca-producer-hopes-for-broadway-run-in-2013/

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Re: "Rebecca" in Stuttgart - a review

Post  ML6 on Sat Jan 05, 2013 8:15 pm

Scorp wrote:
* Well...maybe it will, maybe it won't; God knows. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/rebecca-producer-hopes-for-broadway-run-in-2013/

I'm ready for it. If it does previews in September, I'll be back in NY.

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Re: "Rebecca" in Stuttgart - a review

Post  Josephine on Mon Jan 07, 2013 6:32 am

Scorp wrote:I'm dismayed to hear 'I'm an American Woman' is still in there. Does she still sing about baking cookies and winning at bridge? Rolling Eyes And have they removed the execrable 'Wir sind britisch'?

Yes, "I'm an American woman" is still there. I can't say it's one of my favourite songs, but depending on the singer, it can be quite all right. In my opinion, the sole purpose of that song is to give Mrs van Hopper something to do during the scene.

"Wir sind britisch" is gone, and that's a good thing. It's been replaced by "Merkwürdig" ("Peculiar"), in which Manderley's servants describe society's reactions to Ich, as well as their own. It's not a great song, but it serves its purpose. My favourite aspect of it is that during the song, the butlers take it in turns to try and fix the broken Cupid, only to have it fall apart several times before they finally succeed. That made me chuckle.

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