Kat of the Musicals

What do I have to say about seeing Das Musical Rudolf in Korea?

  1. 😀 😀 😀
  2. Frank Wildhorn
  3. ❤ ❤ ❤

Originally posted on Hello Asia.

The Crown Prince Rudolf – The Musical is one of the most beautiful, moving and emotional musicals that I have ever had the privilege of watching. By the time the curtain had closed on the final scene I was in tears – completely captured by the characters and their story. It is this emotion that the incredible Frank Wildhorn is so often able to capture in his musicals. His lyrics and his music make one with the characters and their actors to draw the audience completely and entirely into their lives and make you feel so attached to the events that you feel everything so directly. Rudolf is absolutely a demonstration of this Wildhorn power that translates even through language barriers.

The musical follows the true story of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his visionary political ideas, his great love story with Mary Vetsera, and the tragedy of events that surround his life. This musical particularly intrigued me as an almost interconnected story with one of my most favourite musicals of all time – Sylvester Levay’s Das Musical Elisabeth, which of course follows the equally tragic story of Rudolf’s mother. Elisabeth premiered in Seoul in 2012 and was performed over a two year run. It’s story also features Rudolf as a prominent character and it is from here that my interest in the captivating and revolutionary boy began.

Rudolf is really a musical that is as incredible to watch as to listen to, and you can really tell that EMK have pulled out all the stops to bring the beautiful story to life for this production. The sets are simply magical – transforming the stage into a winter wonderland of waltzes and skating. Swirling snow falls from the ceiling and onto the set and into the audience so convincingly that you are drawn completely into this Hapsburg Empire. Perhaps it is because our seats were so close to the stage, but you can truly feel the characters and their emotions. Oftentimes the actors sit at the front sides of the stage, lost in thought or observation. These small moments make you feel as you are with them, witnessing the tragedy of the events unfolding on stage.

The musical opens with a grand gala, with the Crown Prince Rudolf and his unloved wife Stephanie in attendance. They are here to witness the marvel of the first electric lights, and whilst the guests clap the townsfolk outside wail in despair. The guests are being entertained by three female sopranos in large white dresses when a lone worker girl rushes her way on stage and shoots herself in protest amidst the finery, spraying red blood onto the white gowns and causing a widespread panic. It is here that Rudolf and Mary first meet – Rudolf looks at the young girl lying at his feet, asking “why?” to which Mary softly replies “Better to die at once than to die a little every day”.

Rudolf is really nothing less than amazing – a Crown Prince torn in every which way with his dark thoughts of ending his own life, his hope for a bright future, his sincere love for Mary. It is an incredible performance from a true master – Ahn Jae Wook. There is not a moment that you don’t believe the pain expressed on his face, that you don’t want to gather behind him and cheer his ideals and speeches, that you don’t wish you were up there in his tight embrace being twirled around in the drifting snow. Rudolf’s solos are all filled with emotional power – from the insecurity of “How Will I Know” and the despair of “An Ordinary Man”, to the authority of “The Measure Of A Man” and the hopeful strength of “The Steps of Tomorrow”.

His life changing love takes shape in the charismatic and idealistic Mary Baroness Vetsera, played by the beautiful Choi Hyun Ju. Her vocals are so strong, and she is perfectly able to capture the audience as well as Rudolf with her positivity and support in pursuit of a better world for tomorrow. Her parallel in Crown Princess Stephanie, played by Jun Su Mi, is just as powerfully moving as any of the other connections in the story. These two women share this beautifully raw moment later in the church that sends shivers down your spine. Mary desperately asks why Stephanie hates her so much, to which Stephanie replies that it is because “he loves you so much”. The two women and their realities are revealed here for us, and single tears fall down their faces.

Back to our story after the grand gala, where Rudolf is very much at odds with his father – the Emperor Franz Joesph (played by Kim Duk Hwan). They quarrel violently over future political alliances, including Franz Joesph’s intent to renew the allegiance with Germany. Secretly Rudolf is an opposition journalist, who goes by the name Julius Felix, and the Emperor is frustrated at the “liberal delusions” that he writes (unknowing that they are actually his son’s). A group of Rudolf’s allies attempt to persuade him to sign a pact demanding a new alliance without Germany, but Rudolf is hesitant.

Meanwhile the romance between Rudolf and Mary is deepening, and she soon discovers that the Crown Prince is also her political hero. The two spend a winter’s night at an ice rink. This is a beautiful scene, with a large scarf being passed between the two as a giddy sign of romance. The set transforms into the ice rink, with the softly falling snow. The cast have donned skates, and although these are roller rather than ice, it gives the most beautiful impression that they are gliding across the icy stage making figure eights in the wintery night. It’s such a wonderful effect for a truly beautiful scene.

This beauty is in complete parallel to the opening scene of Act Two – “The Master of the Strings” in which Rudolf is having a nightmare. This is Taaffe’s moment to shine on stage, and Choi Min Chulplays the controlling, manipulative and frightening Taaffe to a point! The scene is fiercely dark, with dancers menacingly leaping across the stage with their faces covered, as Taaffe pulls their strings. Rudolf’s bed is spun here and there as he clings to the bedposts and looks on in fear as those nearest him are seen hung. When Mary is dropped from the rafters he lets out a despairing scream “MARY!”. Rudolf awakes in terror, and is deeply affected. Mary (who has stayed the night with him) questions his distress. He does not give her a full answer, instead gifting her with a ring inscribed with “united in love until death” and proclaiming that she should wear it around her neck close to her heart.

Rudolf has written to the pope to request an annulment and tells his father that he will give up his titles to be with Mary. The furious Emperor threatens Rudolf with threats against Mary until he has no choice but to surrender. However, empowered by Mary’s belief in him Rudolf gives a passionate speech at the opening of the Industrial Exhibition, exclaiming to the cheering crowd thoughts of peace, progress and change. He signs the pact and in doing so, irrevocably places himself in opposition with the Emperor.

But Rudolf has been betrayed. His pact is given straight to the Emperor, who appears to break a little at the revelation, and disowns him. Rudolf realizes his position, and his fate. We are speedily drawing to some sort of conclusion here as he and Mary are reunited at a train station.

And it is this ending scene that has stayed most forefront in my mind. Rudolf and Mary run into the night as the stage darkens and then reveals a single white bed. The bed is surrounded by lit candles and snow floats gently down from the ceiling and out into the audience. You can hardly breathe. You know what is going to happen and yet the thought of it is so hard to comprehend at having become so attached to the happiness in love of these two characters dancing in the snowdrifts. They enter in towards the bed, captivated in the other. One by one each begins to blow out the candles, one by one until the meet in the centre. The last candlesticks are taken with them as the move towards the bed. In each other’s arms they embrace, their kiss full of raw emotion. The snow continues to drift downwards. Turning in synchronization they both blow out the last remaining candle and the theatre is plunged into complete darkness. And complete and utter silence. Into this darkness it comes- bang. Bang. The sound of two sequential gunshots rings out into the silence. The lights return on the scene – Mary lies across the bed, with Rudolf sitting against its edge and against her. The snow has stopped falling.

“United in love until death”.

This is an incredibly haunting and deeply moving musical. Perhaps it is knowing it reflects the true story of the doomed Crown Prince that we feel so much, that it is so much the “opulent, decadent, a fairy tale and horror tale at the same time” that Director Robert Johanson describes. EMK have really been able to create a perfect production on a magical winter’s stage, with a strong cast telling a tragic tale on an incredible set amongst swirling snow drifts and crescendos.

The Crown Prince Rudolf, The Musical is showing at the D-CUBE Arts Center in Seoul from the 11th October until the 4th January.

The reviewer attended the performance on the 1st November.

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