Around 30 Tony-winning best musicals have been made into Hollywood films, but Broadway has rarely returned the favor: Only three winners of the best picture Oscar successfully transferred to the musical theater stage (“Grand Hotel,” “All About Eve” and “The Apartment”). We now can add “Rebecca” to that list. Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay deliver a work every bit as compelling as their hit “Elisabeth,” the most successful German-language musical of all time, while Francesca Zambello’s dazzling, cinematic production offers storytelling at its best, clearly defining the whirlpool of emotions experienced by the three tortured principal characters.
Never straying far from Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Kunze’s deft lyrics take us deep into the psyches of the never-named heroine (simply called “I”); moody, mercurial Maxim de Winter; obsessive Mrs. Danvers; and even the late Rebecca herself.
Levay knows how to write tunes that jam in your head; he delivers the goods with Mrs. Danvers’ haunting “Rebecca” and the anthem “The Power of a Woman in Love.”
The unrelentingly dark tale is balanced by well-calibrated humor as Rebecca’s rakish lover, Favell, sings a snide ditty, “You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours,” or the ensemble sends up stereotypes in “We Are British.”
Designer Peter J. Davison stunningly captures the atmosphere, from heady summer nights on the Riviera to the oppressive decay of Manderley. The boathouse where Rebecca spent her last night swirls out of the mists; the mansion’s grand staircase spins, rising from beneath the stage as the heroine descends its steps, providing a climactic entrance to the masquerade that closes the first act. The final conflagration looks impressively dangerous as flames engulf the stage.
Birgit Hutter’s lavish costumes adhere to the period of du Maurier’s novel, the middle 1920s, and the outlandish masquerade costumes provide a welcome break from reality. Adding significantly to the show’s look are Andrew Voller’s magical lighting effects and astounding interactive video from Sven Ortel.
Wietske Van Tongeren has all the endearing pipsqueak qualities to make the nameless heroine endearing, expertly conveying the slow transformation from little brown mouse to confident, strong woman. Her performance is marred only by her screechy pop vocal production, which sounds as if she’s been watching “American Idol” instead of listening to “My Fair Lady.”
Uwe Kroger has built a substantial career on his pretty-boy looks. As Maxim, they work against him: He seems too young, too fey, too lightweight for such a haunted, world-weary character. His singing, while impassioned, is merely adequate, but he rises to the challenge of confessing his hatred for Rebecca in “No Smile Was Ever as Cold.”
Mrs. Danvers gets the best music, and in Susan Rigvava-Dumas has found a perfect interpreter. Hers is entirely an original creation, blessedly free of the influence of Judith Anderson’s legendary perf for Hitchcock. With a rich mezzo-soprano as her weapon, she embodies evil born of passion and jealousy in a multi-layered turn.
Gaudy, acid-tongued Mrs. Van Hopper gets written out of the story early on, but with the epic talents of belter par excellence Carin Filipcic and a need for some levity, she returns as a masquerade guest, brazenly trumpeting “I’m an American Woman” in a show-stopping production number.
Scoring big in supporting roles are Carsten Lepper as odious Favell; Kerstin Ibald, a sympathetic Beatrice; Andre Bauer, a dashing Frank Crawley; and Norberto Bertassi, a spooky Ben.
The immortal line “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley” provides prologue and epilogue, appropriately faithful bookends for this dream of a show.