Musical theater on the rise in China

By Zhang Lulu
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 30, 2017
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When 12-year-old Zhou Xiaowei watched the musical "Les Misérables" in 2002, the first major musical imported to China, not only was she reduced to tears by the inspired performances and amazing story, she also found her calling.

Chinese version of the Broadway musical "Jekyll and Hyde" [Photo courtesy CC Live]

Fifteen years later, she is working as the translator and assistant director of the first Chinese version of the Broadway musical "Jekyll and Hyde," which has received considerable praise in Shanghai and Beijing this summer and is heading to Guangzhou in October.

Not lost in translation

Loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the musical "Jekyll & Hyde" premiered on Broadway in 1997. It tells the story of Henry Jekyll, a doctor who experiments on himself to purge out evil but eventually creates within him an alternate evil personality dubbed Hyde.

Translating the musical into Chinese poses many challenges. The dialogues must sound much more natural than in old dubbed imported movies, said Zhou, who studied musical directing in China and the United States. Sometimes the simplest words can be difficult to translate. Zhou took the word "lady" as an example -- the best matching Chinese word does not convey its English connotation of high social status.

The more daunting task is to relate a contemporary Chinese audience to a Victorian-novella-turned-Broadway-musical. The crew decided to keep the Victorian characters and settings instead of transplanting it into the Chinese context, a method sometimes adopted in producing imported works of drama.

Zhou believes the key to making a hit imported work lies in finding the universal theme that audience of any cultures can relate to. "Jekyll & Hyde" centers on a simple premise -- the struggle between good and evil -- which Zhou believes would resonant with everyone today. "You won't be happy if you cannot embrace each and every part of the human nature."

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