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Chinese musicals fight for bigger slice of international pie


With more and more theaters in Shanghai being opened at unconventional places like malls and office buildings, the city is reshaping people's experience of watching a play. With that, small-scale Chinese musical productions have gained popularity among young people in Shanghai. These intimate performances offer a fresh and immersive experience, and this trend has started to extend beyond the city.


In 2020, "Apollonia," produced by Focustage, became the first Chinese musical to be staged in a fixed unconventional venue, gaining star status and continuing to attract large audiences. It has rapidly become a fixture in its genre. Even today, the tickets sell out most nights. "The theater features a long strip with a sofa, a whole stage, and a bathtub as the performance area. The auditorium is set up around the performance area, with little baskets along the stage for wine bottles. The concept is for the audience to sit in the auditorium, watch the actors perform, and also enjoy drinks," said Zhou Shiqi, actor of "Apollonia," as he introduced the venue they perform at. In unconventional small venues, audiences can watch actors performing closely in front of them. Zhou said it's a very different feeling.

The performing scene of musical
The performing scene of musical "Apollonia" in Shanghai. /CGTN

The performing scene of musical "Apollonia" in Shanghai. /CGTN

Following the hit "Apollonia," "King's Table," produced by Amazing Musicals and debuted in 2022 in Shanghai, became the first original Chinese musical to be sold overseas in 2023. South Korea's Never Ending Play company was so enthralled by it that they acquired the copyright for "King's Table."

In a space accommodating fewer than 150 seats, "King's Table" raises the curtain almost every night at 7:30 pm in Shanghai. It presents a compelling narrative set in 19th century Northern Europe, focusing on maritime navigation and warfare.

Speaking of the scenario of the musical, director Tong Xinyu said: "In fact, there are many similarities with our current mentality in recent years, as the current era is also undergoing enormous changes and everyone can empathize with these moments."

Although Asian viewers initially experienced some confusion due to the unfamiliar setting, the story's essence deeply resonated with them. "Despite having lots of rehearsals, I still experience all those intense emotions at the end of the show. I often feel like crying, and my emotions hit a peak," said Zhou Yinan, an actor for "King's Table."

The performing scene of musical
The performing scene of musical "King's Table" in Shanghai. /CGTN

The performing scene of musical "King's Table" in Shanghai. /CGTN

While the Korean adaptation of "King's Table" is set to debut this September, Wang Zuowen, the founder of Amazing Musicals, is aiming to expand the audience for his musicals and seek fresh inspiration to create even better works.

"This time, we are planning to enter the UK market, and we are considering the possibility of exporting "King's Table" as a copyrighted product. We are currently developing some stories based on historical figures with Chinese cultural backgrounds, and we are exploring potential opportunities to collaborate with partners in the UK. Our ultimate goal is to bring this project to fruition in the UK," said Wang as he's on a business trip in Britain.

"Along with our efforts to expand, we have also engaged in importing activities. Additionally, we have recruited actors from London's West End to perform the story of "Light Keepers" that we created in 2020, aiming to bring the original UK-based story to the Chinese audience," he added.

Focustage is also putting more efforts into promoting their productions internationally. Last year they sold a musical titled "The Butterfly on the Bund" to South Korea. With more and more Chinese musicals winning the hearts of audiences overseas, it signaled a significant achievement for the Chinese musical industry, indicating that it is approaching international standards and is now exploring more creative narratives and forms for the stage.

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