Thursday, November 29, 2012

LA RAZÓ Galloping across the Musical´s desert.



In reviewing large, successful musicals put on in Spain over the last several decades, one would find lots of Spanish versions of foreign productions. Indeed, with the exception of the occasional "jukebox" - musical shows that squeeze an artist's repertory and wrap a story around it like in the case of Mecano, Sabina, etc, - there have been very few new and unique musicals with their own stamp. Exceptions are those experimental pieces made in Catalonia such as Dagoll Dagom's "Mar i cel" or the commercial fiasco of Jordi Galcerán's "Gaudí". It is logical though, because creating a new play from scratch is an enormous undertaking, above all in financial terms. Such ventures require courageous producers willing to face the big risks involved. Entrepreneurs like Andrés Vicente Gómez have done it before, albeit until now only in the world of cinema. The veteran producer, who has won and lost so many times - sometimes by knock-out like the best of boxers - is now reinventing himself with his first theatrical experience. And he is doing so with nothing less than a large-scale musical with international ambitions, "El último jinete" (The Last Horseman) which premieres in Madrid next week.

Adventure classics

With an initial budget of 9 million euros, a script written by novelist Ray Loriga, music by English pop music icon Albert Hammond, composer John Cameron, choreography by Broadway heavy-weight Karen Bruce («Footloose», «Fame», «Oliver!» and «Saturday Night Fever»), wardrobe design by recent prize-winner Yvonne Blake, «The Last Horseman» is to premiere in the Canal Theaters, where it will play for five weeks.

Inspired by epic adventure stories, The Last Horseman tells the story of Tiradh, a young Bedouin with little more than a dream: to find an exceptional horse and to achieve glory with it. With the help of an immortal poetess, Al Khansa, Tiradh will travel at the end of the 19th century through Arabia until he reaches Egypt, dominated at the time by war and tribal conflicts. Along his way, he will meet an English high society woman, Lady Laura.

The story behind the musical is not accidental: it originated as a result of a trip made by Andrés Vicente Gómez to the Middle East: «I went over to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia seeking finance to make an animated film... One of the powerful people I met proposed that I make a musical», explains the producer who then asked himself: «Why not do a musical about the reconstruction of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia taking up where "Lawrence de Arabia?" left off?». In fact, he explains, the protagonist is distantly based on King Abdelaziz bin Saud (1876-1953), the first monarch of Saudi Arabia. The next step was to get Ray Loriga on board. Loriga, while on a brief trip to Tokyo to interview Murakami for unrelated reasons, wrote a first draft of the script that delighted Gómez. Others followed, and at this point, there have been at least 16 or 17 drafts of the script, they estimate.

«For me, the theater and more specifically the musical represent a new genre which I like, though not openly because within certain intellectual circles, it is frowned upon to watch such performances as "The Sound of Music" or "The Wizard of Oz," explains Ray Loriga. "But whenever I traveled to London or New York, I would see one of those musicals». And he adds reassuringly: «This show is a fable based on some very important points in the history of Saudi Arabia and, above all, the country's poetry». A country, he notes, «about which the news that reach us are usually distorted».

On stage there'll be a large cast and orchestra, with three well-known names in the world of musicals in Spain: Miquel Fernández («Hoy no me puedo levantar»), Marta Ribera («Chicago») and Julia Möller («Beauty and the Beast»). As head of the project, Gómez is working with a seasoned director with known successes under his belt in this genre. Resorting to very little -two actors and a few blankets so to speak- Víctor Conde turned the small-scale musical «Pegados» into a success in Madrid. With a little more -well, actually, quite a lot more-, he proved with «Les Miserables» that he could also handle commercial products. As regards this new musical, Conde assures us that there is «humor, adventure and romance, and poetry» in this story. And regarding Loriga's script: «The actors would say to me: how beautiful our dialogue is. It's as if we were performing a Shakespearean play». Mind you, some «theatrical carpentry» was missing. And that has been his job: «We are almost doing an adventures movie from the 1980s: our reference points are films like "The Princess Bride", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", and the classics of the 1930s of Errol Flynn... Once we had that clear, it was very easy to pursue our target along the lines of the formulae we selected». Although, of course, the horses won't be real ones: «We knew from the beginning that we didn't want that. I have worked with real horses before... and I know the way the stage smells when you do», the director jokes. «We are doing theater here... and in a musical format».
They won't be resorting either to a huge puppet like in the case of «War Horse» in London. That was too obvious. Conde has opted instead for a «human horse» made of two male dancers. «We never intended for the horse to be real, and the actors know it. We present it with the music», the director explains. And Loriga underscores: «We needed something that belonged to the realm of dreams».

In the same way, the set design will not be grandiose nor will it change as the story unfolds from the Arab markets and the desert to Victorian London in the second part of the musical. Instead, it will be evocative, relying on a palace-like though open atmosphere.