Monday, April 14, 2014

The Bronte Babes in Berlin

Tonight I went to see a student musical. What’s so extraordinary about that? I’ve been attending student shows – good, bad and excruciating - for half a century. But never before one like this.

The school is the well-known UDK (Universität der Künste) of Berlin. The venue was the splendid larger salle at the Neuköllner Oper, and the musical was Schwestern im Geiste (‘Sisters in Spirit’). Never heard of it, have you?

No one has, for this is a brand new musical, written by the very well-known team of Peter Lund and Thomas Zaufke, writer and composer of a string of successful shows, together and separately (Babytalk etc etc), especially for this group of students, and expressly tailored to their considerable talents. And numbers: 7f 2m.

The subject? It’s about the Bronte sisters. Whaaat? Not a lot of action there. As it was described to me when I put up the big query, ‘well, in act one they write books, and in act two they die’. Not promising. But, of course, it’s not only about that. As I was to find out.

The title says it all. It parallels the restricted lives of the Bronte girls with those of three women of today, in a most effective fashion. I, of course, missed the fine points of Lund’s German dialogue, but the story and the characters came across clearly, as, of course, did the lushly ensemble-filled (hurrah!) and melodious score.

It is an ideal student or ensemble show: every character is interestingly individual, every player has plenty of opportunity to show her or his talents in rangey solo song and in speech. And how great for these young people to have the opportunity to create a role, work it out for themselves, instead of just giving an impersonation of some known performer in some known part. UDK, the Neuköllner, Lund and Zaufke have earned the thanks of a series of years-worth of students (for this is the latest piece of several on which they have all combined over the years) for a truly artistic and praiseworthy venture.

And the show? The performers? As I sit here, there are two stage pictures fighting for the front of my brain: Branwell Bronte (Andres Esteban) hurling himself in frustration against the scenery, representative of his sisters’ writings, on his way to his sodden death; and the beautiful moment when Ann (Katharina Abt), high up on top of that same excellent scenery, sang so softly and sweetly a darling song ("Erzähl von dir selbst") which would be her farewell to life.

The ancient and the modern Charlotte (Keren Trüger, Teresa Scherhag) were very finely acting and singing ‘rocks’ around which the action swirled, Dalma Viczina was a remarkably striking Emily, Jaqueline Reinhold showed up with the strongest voice as the Turkish girl, Aydin, and Sabrina Reischel-Tabby as a splendid soubrette maid (Petra from A Little Night Music ?) took on the whole responsibility of throwing some uncomplicated merriment (and a Marika Oszwald cartwheel) into the basically rather serious stories.

I hope every casting director and agent in town has been to see this show. Not for the sake of Messrs Lund and Zaufke who have had nothing left to prove for many years, but for the young people to whom they gifted this glorious opportunity to show off their talents. Chuckle: if I were still an agent and a caster I’d be chasing Miss Abt, to start with …..

So thanks everyone—and that includes the designers, band, dance designer et al – for a really interesting and enjoyable night. And the best student performance I have ever seen.

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