As Weber's most beautiful work, "Phantom of the Theater" has quite high requirements for the actors' singing skills and performances, and also highlights the urgency of the current musical theater industry to cultivate all-round actors. The picture shows "Phantom of the Theater Chinese Version Stills" Zhizhi in the grid object

Huang Qizhe

The first round of Shanghai performances of the Chinese version of the musical Phantom of the Theatre will conclude this week, followed by a national tour of unprecedented scale in the domestic musical market. The discussion around it covers various aspects: such as comparison with various versions such as Broadway, the characteristics of the singing performance of each cast, the translation of "Sindaya", and so on. It can be said that the breadth and depth of the topics it carries far exceed the appreciation of a drama itself, and even leads to an in-depth discussion on how to develop Chinese musicals in the next stage.

Why is there such a big buzz? First of all, because the market "has been dry for a long time". The domestic entertainment industry, which has been thirsty for too long, urgently needs tomes to activate the market; On the other hand, it is due to the enduring charm of classic IP; What is more far-reaching is that temporarily bidding farewell to the previous cycle of explosive growth of Chinese musicals, the large theater musicals represented by the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theater" are intensively updated, which also gives practitioners and audiences the opportunity to see the industry at zero distance and intuitively and deeply.

However, for more than a decade, the Chinese musical theater market has changed from "Mamma Mia! The "dilemma" of selling several tickets on the first day of the Chinese edition of the ticket spanned to today's grand situation of 800 million yuan and a cumulative box office of nearly 4800 million yuan in the first week of the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theater". In the face of unprecedented enthusiasm in the market, the industry should be awake in addition to being excited: as a "complete copyright copy" work, in the process of "benchmarking" with Western super-first-class actors from actor standards to production standardization, the whole link of the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theater" from production to performance to market feedback will be an excellent opportunity for self-examination. It will help us face up to and identify the shortcomings that need to be filled in the rapid development of the industry, and find the right starting point for the next round of development of the musical theater industry.

Why is the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theatre" belated?

As an imported product, the localization of the Chinese of musicals is not a recent exploration. Looking back at history, in 1987, when musical theater was in the ascendant in China, the Central Opera House put the musical "Musical Instrument Salesman" on the stage in the form of a Chinese version, becoming the Chinese version of the "first" in Chinese music history. The landmark event came in 2011. At that time, "Mamma Mia! Chinese version was staged, becoming the first localized musical in China to be fully copyrighted. Just a year later, the Chinese version of Weber's other masterpiece "Cat" set off a wave again. In recent years, the scope of localized production has expanded to include musicals in Russian, Korean, and French. Why is the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theatre", the musical enlightenment of many people, belated?

In layman's terms, an obvious factor is - expensive! Ma Chencheng, chief producer of the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theater", revealed that the overall investment of the play is the Chinese version of "Cat" or "Mamma Mia! Chinese version is twice as good as the Broadway classic. At this point, the audience can get an intuitive feeling from the stage. On the stage, the luxurious set of the "Paris Opera" was restored, and the three virtual operas "Hannibal", "Dumb" and "Don Juan's Triumph" were performed from the ancient Roman Republic to the 18th century, and more than 230 costumes alone were required to match them.

However, investing in "real money" is not the biggest obstacle that has plagued the industry to localize. The funds are ready, is the upstream and downstream of the industrial chain "ready"? Unlike some "incomplete copyright copy" productions on the market, which can be moderately subtracted in costumes and props for cost control and second creation, "full copyright copying" large-scale productions such as "Phantom of the Theater" should have a stage presentation "exactly the same" as Broadway. And this means that from the overall quality of actors, industry standardization to market foundation, all determine whether the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theater" can really land smoothly. Now, the "long overdue" after the three-year window has also become "just in time" under the warming of cultural consumption willingness.

From the classic IP localization practice, we can see the shortcomings of industrial development

Of course, we must also admit that what we must face is the great improvement of the aesthetic needs of the current domestic audience. In the era of developed information media, many audiences can compare it with various audio and video of "Phantom of the Theater", especially the 25th anniversary edition of the play, which is a "classic of classics", which greatly raises the expectation of the performance.

Based on this background, the market feedback of "Phantom of the Theater" generally focuses on the discussion of the only two variables of "full copyright copying" - dubbing and actor performance, in addition to discussing "different from the original".

The translation of the Chinese edition of "Phantom of the Theater" is remarkable.

In fact, among the video materials available on the Internet, there is no lack of high-quality versions translated by a group of musical theater enthusiasts. However, "seeing" and "listening" are two different things. While the words are beautiful and rhymed accurately, it is also necessary for the actors to sing comfortably and the audience to understand. Why did the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theatre" win praise from the audience? The composition of the translator plays a big role. Among them, there are senior Chinese music lyricists like Chen Shaoqi who join, checking the matching degree of words and the tone of the musical sentence; There are also responsible words with literary skills meaning "Sindaya"; The "post-90s" translators provide a sense of the times and a sense of popularity; Even actors will propose lyric changes during the actual singing. This model moderately corrects the translation defects of some previous works that have been criticized by the audience, and is worthy of reference by other practitioners.

As for the actor part, several groups of "Phantoms" have their own characteristics, which to a certain extent represent the best level of domestic musical theater actors. Of course, through this drama involving more than 100 cast members, the imbalance between the cast team and the lack of comprehensive strength also make a problem more prominent, that is, the urgency of cultivating all-round actors.

In China, thanks to the strong programs of various art academies such as Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Shanghai Theater Academy, and Beijing Dance Academy, the musical theater students cultivated have their own characteristics: or solid vocal music; or delicate performance; Or dance for good... However, in turn, this means that there are currently very few all-round musical theater actors. The musical is precisely a highly comprehensive contemporary art, requiring actors to "be good at singing and dancing and performing". In the past, small theaters introduced plays or original musicals in addition to considering the production cost, but also because they were aware of this problem, they "hidden" by reducing large song and dance passages. However, in front of a truly classic big production, the large and singing and dancing scenes will inevitably highlight the shortcomings.

And this may become the next point of strength for the musical theater industry in the future. In the face of a large, booming and extremely large resource throughput of the musical theater industry, it should not be regarded as an absolutely isolated performing arts category. How to recruit high-level talents for specific plays and specific cycles requires high standards from producers, and it is also necessary to explore more effective mechanisms and cooperation paths to better revitalize performing arts resources and achieve a win-win situation for all parties.

The new round of big production will bring a larger audience accumulation

In the past, there was a voice in the industry that the development of musicals everywhere had to go through the development process from the introduction of the original version to the localization of the Chinese version production, and then to the development of the original musical. It corresponds to the art style from art popularization, to imitation and borrowing, industrial standardization, and then to cultural export. However, in practice, the evolution of musical theater is not linear, especially for Asian countries that started late, often the three are parallel, and even go through multiple rounds of cyclical iteration.

Taking South Korea as an example, it first introduced a number of Broadway classics such as "The Sound of Music" and "Cat" in the early 90s of last century. In 1995, they released the original musical "Empress Myeongseong" and successfully staged it overseas, forming the first development cycle. Shortly after Millennium introduced the original Phantom of the Theater, a Korean version of the play was launched, triggering a new wave of musical development. Since then, Seoul's University Road has become an important incubator for original musicals. In the past decade, while Korean musicals have been regularly staged and star-packed, original musicals with local characteristics such as "Wash" and "My Bucket List" have become an important cultural export of Korea.

In the process, the Korean version of "Phantom of the Theater" crosses the cycle. As of the launch of the new version in April this year, it has gone through three local editions and three international touring editions in more than 20 years. Almost every round stands at the key node of the development of a new round of Korean musicals and the cultivation of a new generation of audiences.

In contrast, although China started late, it also has a more solid market foundation, reducing the cost of trial and error in the reference and exchange of development models of various countries. Especially in recent years, the new era environment and aesthetic trends have allowed the development of Chinese musical theater to develop its own characteristics.

Taking Shanghai, the center of Asian musicals, as an example, from 2000 to around 2010, the development path of the market "from 0 to 1" is similar to that of Japan and South Korea. In 2002, the musical "Les Miserables" was staged at the Shanghai Grand Theatre, opening the way for the introduction of the original large-scale production.

In 2018, the phenomenal French-language musical "Rock Mozart" was staged at Shanghai Cultural Square, becoming an important node for the second market growth. It enlightens domestic musicals to realize the pulling effect of star effect in the musical theater market. The "musical theater girls" accumulated from this starting point, that is, audiences mainly urban female white-collar students, have become the second generation of musical theater consumers.

In the past three years, overseas performances have been blocked, and the popularity of musicals has bucked the trend. Among them, the small theater musical staged at Asia Tower has the most momentum. In this process, the Chinese version of overseas popular works is also a new fulcrum - a "Apollonia" makes the "star space" in the building "performed every day" continue to increase. Although the volume of small theaters does not bring about a leap in the magnitude of the audience, it has helped to consolidate the market.

In 2023, while the cultural performing arts market is recovering, its main consumer groups are also quietly undergoing intergenerational iteration, and it is urgent to enter a new round of expansion. That is, if you take the original version of Les Misérables to Mamma Mia! The wave of viewing triggered by the Chinese edition is regarded as the original accumulation of "from 0 to 1" in the Chinese musical theater market; Think of the "musical girl cultivated from "Rock Mozart" to Chinese"Apollonia" as a new round of expansion from "1 to 10". So is it possible that the national tour launched by the Chinese version of "Phantom of the Theater" will set off a breakthrough of "from 10 to 100 or even to 1000"? Then, the portrait of the new generation of potential audiences is no longer specific to age, occupation, and gender, and they can be new theater audiences who have shifted from entertainment consumption to cultural consumption; Even when we look under the iceberg – in the context of deep integration of culture and tourism, will they be tourists of all ages who see "watching a musical" as a must-do in Shanghai's city tours?

We hope that the intensive staging of the musical "Phantom of the Theater" Chinese version this year will become a turning point in the new round of expansion of China's musical theater market. (Wen Wei Po)