And now what do I have to say about seeing Das Musical Rebecca in Korea? Especially seeing as I saw it on my birthday!?
- Sylvester Levay
Originally posted on Hello Asia.
Das Musical Rebecca is just what you’d expect from a Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay musical – it’s dark, it’s romantic, it has strong characters, it’s thrilling and in some ways it’s just a bit terrifying. Indeed, what better musical to have seen on Halloween than this?
Based on the novel by Daphene Du Maurier and the film adaption by Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca is a romantic love story full of mystery and suspense. As Levay and Kunze describe, the musical “tells this story with imagery, dialogue, lyrics, a dramatic score and moving, melodic songs. It is an intimate play about a woman and a man getting to know each other deeply and trying to cope with fear, guilt and dark memories”.
It’s a bit rare to have a mystery musical, and it’s exciting to watch and listen and try and figure out the dark intrigues that haunt Manderley through the characters and moving score. The enigmatic and mysterious figure of Rebecca is the main subject of the musical and yet she never appears on stage, as she has died in mysterious drowning circumstances a year previously. Was it our heroic handsome Maxim? What does the obsessed Mrs Danvers know? What really happened to Rebecca?
The musical opens with a wistful girl dreamily singing of a destroyed estate called Manderley, which appears burnt down by a fire. The girl is our leading lady, a young shy girl called “I”. Although courageous and kind, I has been overshadowed throughout her life. As assistant to Mrs Van Hopper she is inadvertently introduced to the handsome, wealthy and recluse Maxim De Winter. I begins to break the icy around Maxim and rather than her being parted from him, Maxim (rather amusedly) bends down on one knee and asks her to marry him.
Lim Hye Young was our delightful I, her beautiful and youthful voice breaking through the darkness of the musical. She is a heroine, who although is shy and easily affected, is never weak and useless. Throughout the musical we witness her growth at Maxim’s side, as she transforms into a self-assured confident young woman determined to stand next to her husband as an equal to the late Rebecca. This transformation is most markedly witnessed in her firm declaration to Mrs Danvers in one of the later pieces – “I am Mrs De Winter!”
Our Maxim De Winter was the incredible Um Ki Joon. I have a recording of Rebecca featuring Ryu Jeong Han as Maxim and let me tell you Ryu Jeong Han is one impressive Maxim, so I had very high expectations for the character. Um Ki Joon did not disappoint me at all. He played the handsome and powerful man with ease, striding across stage full of authority and handling all the difficulties of Maxim’s varied and strong vocal arrangements.
Back in our story- with any mention of his former wife Maxim appears affected and unwilling to discuss anything to do with her. He is kind and gentle around I but his secretiveness makes you unsure as to whether you can completely trust him. He has the air of a man who is just and right, but that will follow his own sense of justice and righteousness without hesitation. Um Ki Joon really pulls this characterization off perfectly.
After their wedding and honeymoon the newly wed Winters arrive at the grand estate Manderley, where they are greeted with both friends and servants. Certainly a highlight of the musical is the incredible entrance of the dramatic housekeeper Mrs Danvers.
Obsessed with the late Rebecca, Mrs Danvers sees I as inferior in everyway and is not afraid to take opportunities to explain this to her. Our Mrs Danvers is Lisa, and it is evident from the moment she enters on the grand staircase that she is going to hold her own with all the power of her character. Lisa’s voice clearly breaks through the servants chorus to declare- “what does she want here in Manderley!”. Dressed in all black, Mrs Danvers worshipfully describes the late Rebecca to I in the most famous piece of the musical- “Rebecca”. Mrs Danvers is perhaps the most intriguing character in the musical, and you’re a bit unsure as to whether she has the right of it being so unswervingly loyal to her mistress, or completely and utterly crazy in her obsession. How can one feel so devoted to another where there is only a relationship of servant to mistress? It makes you feel very uneasy as she grasps I to show her Rebecca’s untouched room- her unwashed nightgown, her entwined hairbrush and how she describes her last smile…
It is here we also learn that Rebecca was expecting a baby before her death! Our plot is thickening!
All is not peaceful with our new happy couple either, and they frequently come together at odds as they get to know each other better. After I apologizes profusely to Mrs Danvers after breaking an old statue of Rebecca’s, Maxim angrily asks why she was so pitiful as to beg forgiveness from the housekeeper when she is now the woman of the house. He expects that she should act with more confidence in future, and not be as weak. Crying I runs back up to her room. And she really does run upstairs in this wonderful stage design of the magnificent interior of Manderley- which displays almost like a dollhouse! The two are unable to stay apart for long however, and they sing in duet as they promise to be more understanding towards the other and grow in their love together, voices working perfectly with each other.
However! This love is soon to be tested! Maxim races out into the night to assist in a nearby shipwreck, and a distraught I attempts to find him along the shoreline with naught but a flashlight. During her search the ensemble sing to “Flotsam and Jetsam”. They wield cane fishing baskets that they slam down in unison beats on stage, and it really sounds incredible! I weaves her way through, and is eventually directed towards a boatshed, in which she discovers a disheveled Maxim.
“No Smile Was Ever So Cold” is absolutely the standout solo for Maxim, with Um Ki Joon performing the breaking piece with such powerful raw emotion. Maxim goes between crying, screaming and despair as he tells I he didn’t love Rebecca, that he discovered she was unfaithful and having an affair. That the child she was pregnant with was not his, and how Rebecca had always been insensitive and callous towards him and others. He finally breaks down with a final broken- “It’s her smile that I see before me, wherever I go… No smile was ever so cold!” screamed into the silent spellbound audience.
Overheard, Maxim is now brought in for questioning at being suspected for killing Rebecca. But now I has grown tremendously in confidence and begins to investigate on her own why Rebecca had visited a doctor in the months leading up to her death. After visiting the doctor in person she discovers that Rebecca had been terminally ill with cancer and that it was likely that she instigated her own death. When this news is relayed to Maxim, he feels liberated finally able to remove the pictures of Rebecca from Manderley and devote himself in entirety to his new wife. And will that be happily ever after?
Not yet… For Mrs Danvers has lost herself completely at the news. To her the thought that Rebecca had concealed something from her is unbelievable. She sets fire to Manderley and her memories, and the stage lights up in real flames as Manderley burns to the ground in a dramatic finale. A lone figure of Maxim standing amongst the flames witnessing the dark past go up in smoke.
The musical ends with the embrace of Maxim and I in love, as the Epilogue returns to the opening scene of the burnt Manderley- but those shadowy faces we saw in the beginning are now the illuminated faces of those we know.
Rebecca is a brilliantly intriguing and dark musical, with a power score and dramatic voices emphasized in ever-dark set. EMK have done an absolutely fantastic job with this production. Little lighting is used save for at the beginning. For the time we are at Manderley the stage is kept quite dark – with much use of darker blue lights, dramatic blood reds and smoke. The stage cleverly uses this screen which drops onto the stage during moments on the shoreline, projecting graphics and giving the effect that we were indeed witnessing the ebb and flow of the tides. Very effective indeed! Another interesting feature was that the stage itself is completely surrounded by picture frames- each with a different image in its frame. These each lit up during different stages of the musical- as a little pictorial plot reference to the storyline. For example, a scene of the beach or the courthouse chair, with each it’s own different coloured light.
The set design is gorgeous and extravagant- suiting the gothic house and its heavy surroundings. As mentioned previously, the set acts very much like a dolls house- spinning rooms to reveal balconies etc. It allows the audience to feel as those the house is actually on stage. Costumes were mostly minimal and quite periodic, with the most eye-catching being used at the Manderley Ball. Other than this there is not much that detracts the audience from the mysteries on stage and the drama unfolding in the story.
And unfold it does in this exciting and darkly moving musical. Fans of Levay/Kunze musicals (such asElisabeth and Mozart) will equally love Das Musical Rebecca. Their incredible ability to capture your interest and keep it at such a high intensity throughout the whole story is almost second to none. I really do hope they soon do a full version translated into English, this captivating musical.
“Rebecca… come back Rebecca”.