32 theaters hope to tempt audiences, musicals

Move over Broadway — China is looking to become the global destination of choice for musicals.

Theatergoers in the Chinese capital are hoping a giant entertainment project that will contain 32 theaters when construction is complete will rival the West End and Broadway, with some of the world’s top musicals such as “Fame” and “The Lion King” running year-round.

Backers are spending $686 million on the project, and the main theater will seat 2,000 people, with the others accommodating auds of between 300 and 500.

Creative Beijing will be home to a complex of theaters for musicals in the Haidian district in the capital’s northwestern suburbs. Local media have already dubbed it “China’s Broadway,” and it will be Asia’s biggest base for the production of musicals.

“The capital is a traditional cultural center, with the biggest audiences and the best performing talents,” Xu Feng, spokesman for developer Beijing Nederlander New Century Intl. Theater Management, told the China Daily.

Chinese auds have really taken to Western-style musicals such as “Hairspray,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Lion King,” even though tickets can be expensive. Many musicals are being customized for local auds to run in the Mandarin language, often with big impresarios such as the Broadway’s Nederlanders or Cameron Mackintosh involved.

Foreign producers are keen to make an impact in China to offset flagging fortunes in home markets that are feeling the pinch of the economic crisis.

Nederlander recently produced a Chinese version of “Fame” at the Central Academy of Drama, having brought “42nd Street” to China last year. Beijing Shibo Real Estate is putting up the coin, and marketing director Li Yanping expects the theaters to stage more than 100 musicals a year.

In 2007 British producer Mackintosh announced plans to stage shows such as “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Miss Saigon” in China.

The organizers hope the new cluster of theaters will rival Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts in terms of ticket sales but also generates profits through the marketing of musical-related products and souvenirs and the operation of talent agencies.

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