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Lady in the Dark Alights in Beijing
Before getting a chance to see the stage splendor of the original Broadway production of "Cats," Beijing audiences can first savor the flavor of another theatrical treat.

The "Lady in the Dark," a musical performed by a team of professional and amateur artists and musicians from China and overseas will be held at the Century Theatre from tomorrow to Saturday.

"Lady in the Dark" is a stunning musical which uses alternating dramatic scenes and large-scale musical dream sequences to portray a modern woman's attempt to reconcile the conflicting demands of her personal and professional lives.

Liza Elliott is an extremely successful editor of a fashion magazine, and several desirable men want to marry her, but she is miserable.

She goes to a psychiatrist, who delves into her feelings by way of her dreams. She recounts three dreams (which are extended musical sequences) -- of glamour, of marriage, and finally a manic trial scene in which she is forced to defend herself against the charge that she refuses to make up her mind.

Finally the analyst explains that her feelings towards her mother are the root of her problem, and they are symbolized by a childhood song which haunts her -- but which she is unable to remember in full.

She comes to terms with her memories, remembers the song, and realizes the man she really wants is her advertising manager, who has not previously been a candidate.

Despite tackling the most unlikely of topics for a stage musical -- psychoanalysis -- the musical was a runaway success when it opened on Broadway in 1941.

Even now, the issues explored by this story are highly relevant for China's young and growing middle class.

That was the major reason producer Andrew Andreasen and musical director Nicholas Smith chose to put on the show.

"The show is timeless in its dramatization of the main character's attempt to balance her personal and business lives. In the process she discovers who she really is, and finds true meaning and finally true love in her life," said Smith.

Andreasen said: "It is a piece way ahead of its time, not only in subject matter but also in the unorthodox way in which it is presented. I think it is one of the more interesting stories written for musical theatre because of its complexity and issues which are still incredibly relevant to today's world.

"Any good theatrical experience should take the audience on a journey of self discovery and I think this piece has the power to do just that."

The script of Moss Hart (1904-61) is witty, and the songs by composer Kurt Weill (1900-50) and lyricist Ira Gershwin (1896-1983) are rich and varied and interspersed with numerous spectacular dance numbers.

Independent film director Jennifer Schwerin offers tremendous visual opportunities as the musical deftly switches back and forth between short dramatic scenes and flamboyant mini-musicals depicting Liza's dreams.

She said: "This show first grabbed my attention and tickled my curiosity because of its psychological theme.

"I've been interested for some time in the new psychology of China and for me it is one of the most exciting subjects because it lends itself to wonderful visuals representing the internal lives of people. So when the opportunity came along to direct 'Lady in the Dark,' I just couldn't say no."

"I thought, what an incredible show for China right now, at this time when the whole landscape of personal choices and economic opportunities have created an environment of immense change.

"It can be quite dizzying and this show goes right to the heart of what is on everyone's mind, but it is done with style and intelligence and imagination."

The director and producer have been overwhelmed by local talent who have auditioned for places in the core cast of 50 players. As well as singers and actors, the producer and director have identified dancers, circus performers, mime artists, as well as a distinguished stage design and back stage crew.

"I have been so excited about the collaborative nature of the project, bringing foreign and local talent together in an unprecedented way," said Smith.

"The whole experience is a first and I've been thrilled to be a part of it and honoured to work with such talented people."

US soprano Marsha Mercant will star as Elliott and British actor Michael Sterling plays the Ringmaster, the man who chases her and his alter egos Beekman and Russell Paxton.

The two co-operated in the sell-out production of "Lady in the Dark" by San Francisco's Marin Theatre Company.

"The audience can expect the unexpected!" said Sterling.

"Before being asked to take part in 'Lady in the dark,' I knew little or nothing about the piece.

"However, when I got deeper into the score, I realized this show truly shows the unique genius of Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, who certainly give each and every performer an immense challenge, from the leading roles to the ensemble and the orchestra to the production team."

He added: "A lot of musicals are just fluff which is fine; we all need entertainment that allows us to escape our everyday lives. But this piece is more complex than a lot of musical theatre and has the potential to entertain as well as make us think."

(China Daily April 2, 2003)

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