Review: ELISABETH at Château Du Karreveld

The production is part of the Bruxellons! Festival in Belgium.

By: Aug. 28, 2022
Review: ELISABETH at Château Du Karreveld
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After starting to educate the French-speaking audience of Brussels into the art of musical theater, with widely known titles such as The Sound of Music, Evita, Sunset Boulevard, and My Fair Lady, the Bruxellons! Festival has started venturing into lesser-known material with Blood Brother last year, which, despite being initially a big hit in London, had hardly been done since, let alone in a foreign language. This year's Elisabeth, originally commissioned by Vereinigte Bühnen Wien, had been seen over 10 million times throughout the world, becoming the most successful German musical of all time, but, despite having been translated 7 foreign languages, had yet to be done in either English or French.

Review: ELISABETH at Château Du Karreveld The debacle of another big German musical property on Broadway, Dance of the Vampires, closing after just 56 performances and losing 12 million dollars, has made it difficult for German musical hits to make it onto the American and British scenes, which explains the cancelation of the Broadway edition of Rebecca a few seasons ago. Dance of the Vampires only had a moderate success at Mogador Theater in Paris in 2014, but, since it portrays the life and death of Emperess Elisabeth of Austria, better known as Sissi in the famous Romey Schneider 3-movie series, Elisabeth stands a better chance with French-speaking audiences.Review: ELISABETH at Château Du Karreveld

Like many other successful German musicals, such as Mozart (1999) and Rebecca (2006), Elisabeth has music by Serbian-born, Hungarian recording artist Slyvester Levay and book and lyrics by Czech composer Michael Kunze. Their score is strong in melodies, somewhat reminiscent of Andrew Lloyd Weber in its hues of repeated musical motifs with different lyrics, which can lead the audience to hum some of the tunes while exiting the theater, a rare occurrence in contemporary musical theater! However, the sentimentality of some of the songs, particularly in Act 2, sometimes goes against the political awareness and cynicism of the book, which was never the case in Evita.Review: ELISABETH at Château Du Karreveld

Much as Che serves in that most political of Lloyd Weber's musicals, Elisabeth has a narrator in the person of Lucheni, the empress's random assassin, impeccably interpreted by the multi-talented South American-born Antonio Macipe, who's been the singer of the successful French musical show CAR/MEN since 2019. Though some of his voicing is a bit too modern for a period piece, his mocking of theater merchandising with the Sissi souvenirs is hilarious. And, like another famous Lloyd Weber musical, Elisabeth also has ghost figure in the person of Death itself, much like Jessica Lange in the Bob Fosse self-biopic All That Jazz, spectacularly portrayed and sung by the equally talented, mononomial Kaplyn, fresh from the French production of South Pacific at the Opéra de Tours.Review: ELISABETH at Château Du Karreveld

Outside of these two pivotal characters, the narrative follows the life story of the princess till her untimely death and is enhanced by an excellent cast, now headed by the charming Romina Palmeri, taking over from Marie-Pierre de Brienne for the end of the run and the production's September extension. Among the large cast of principal characters and ensemble are a dancing quartet of Death's acolytes, reminiscent of the 2 dancing servants of Ursala in The Little Mermaid, giving choreographer Kylian Campbell many opportunities to show off his talent! Arnaud Masclet is a capable leading man, quite believable as the Emperor François-Joseph, and Lander Van Nuffelen, seen in the ensemble of the InTeam Production of Kiss of the Spider Woman, makes a moving Rudolf, Elisabeth's ill-fated son. But the evening belongs to Ann Mie Gils, who stands out, as she previously did in Blood Brothers and of course Sunset Boulevard, in the role of Elisabeth's evil, domineering stepmother Archduchess Sophie, the most interesting, multidimensional character in the show, a bit what Mamma Rose is to Gypsy!

As always, the production values are of a high caliber, including the 18-piece orchestra conducted by Laure Campion, the basic but effective set design by Thierry Bosquet, with a looming crooked cross signifying the fall of the Astro-Hungarian Empire, and the climatic lighting by Laurent Kaye and the magnificent costumes by Béatric Guilleaume.

One more time, Stéphane Laporte has delivered a perfect French adaptation, and Jack Cooper has proven his great talents as director and producer, together with Olivier Moerens. Though not a masterpiece (its characters don't always come to life), Elisabeth is a pleasant enough work with very good moments such as the prostitute number "Pas de manière" in Act 2. In fact, the Bruxellons team must have made it more enjoyable, as well as more politically aware (foreshadowing the 3rd Reich), than the original actually was. Still, it has merits in telling the true story of the Empress Elisabeth's tragic life, flirting with death and not always in sync with her time and place, while getting away from the cheesiness of the Sissi movies, even if its score not always does.

We have seen with My Fair Lady what the Bruxellons festival team can do with a true masterpiece, so we can't wait to see what they do with another one next year, West Side Story with French lyrics and texts for the 1st time. Their special award at Les Trophées de la comédie musicale in Paris in June was truly well-deserved.

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