Audacious Plans For ‘Saigon’ In Stuttgart

Thundering helicopters and one-ton statues of Ho Chi Minh don’t fit comfortably into most theaters. But that wasn’t a problem for the co-producer of the first German-language version of “Miss Saigon.” He built the theater to fit the props. In fact, Rolf Deyhle is so sure the show will be a hit that he anticipates a 10-year run at the 1,800-seat theater – part of a glitzy $333 million hotel and entertainment complex here.

So far, the investment by the 56-year-old former tax collector seems to be paying off. Before the premiere on Dec. 2, half a million tickets had been sold. More than 60% of the seats available for 1995 are spoken for, a Deyhle spokesman says. Tickets for the show, which runs eight performances a week, range from $40 to $120, not including program.

The venture might seem audacious if Deyhle hadn’t already made good money retreading proven musicals for German audiences. Stella Musical Management, a Deyhle subsidiary, is behind German-language versions of “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera” in Hamburg, and “Starlight Express” in Bochum. A German “Les Miserables” is scheduled to open in Duisburg in about a year.

But what’s different about “Miss Saigon” is its role as the centerpiece of a “Leisure and Experience Center” – the theater as destination resort.

Musical Hall Stuttgart is flanked by high-rise hotels run by the British Cop-thorne chain, which will offer 455 beds when construction work is finished. The ground floor of the complex has an array of theme restaurants, including one with an Asian menu. At intermission, theatergoers can choose from an Irish pub and a pizzeria, among others, at the food court. There are also shops and even a Mercedes-Benz salesroom to spend what’s left over from your ticket purchase.

The hotels are offering “Cultural Packages” which include lodging, “Miss Saigon” tickets and a pass to the separately owned Schwaben Quellen, a spa that is also part of the complex. Designed to look like a village in Finland, the spa features real log cabins deployed around a manmade lake. In line with the local tradition, swimsuits are optional.

In a city where many people still buy their food from ruddy-faced farmers at an open-air market, some have complained that Deyhle’s complex is an outpost of American-style consumerism. But most people seem happy about the tourists and the money the project is attracting. Manfred Rommel, the mayor of Stuttgart, hailed the project as a stroke of luck for a city emerging from its worst recession since the war.

Of course, Musical Hall Stuttgart can easily accommodate other shows. But it was designed specifically for “Miss Saigon.” The architects allowed plenty of airspace for the Huey helicopter, complete with thudding rotor blade, which evacuates the American soldier Chris and his compatriots from Saigon. There is also plenty of head room for the towering statue of Ho Chi Minh, which was brought by boat and truck from Tokyo. At more than $13 million, the production is the most expensive ever in Germany, said Regine Sugg, a spokeswoman for Stella Musical Management. Deyhle declined an interview request.

The producers of this incarnation of “Miss Saigon” tried to make it as much like the English-speaking versions as possible, Sugg says. The work was done by a German-led team, according to Sugg, guided by British producer Cameron Mackintosh, who shares producing credit with Stella. The songs were translated by Heinz Rudolf Kunze, a well-known singer who also has translated “Les Miz.”

Deyhle and Mackintosh have good reason to believe German audiences will support a long run, given the success of their other joint ventures in this country. “Cats” came to Hamburg in 1986 and is still filling an 1,100-seat house. An 1,800-seat theater, also in Hamburg, has been virtually SRO with “Phantom” viewers since June 1990.

Even “Starlight Express” in out-of-the-way Bochum has been a hit.

“Bochum is like Albuquerque,” says Reinhard Theil, another Deyhle spokesman. “Everybody said, ‘This is never going to work.’ ” Five years after the show opened, the 1,700-seat theater, near the industrial center of Essen in northwestern Germany, is consistently sold out, Theil says.

Deyhle began his career in the city revenue office, became a private tax consultant and later moved into real estate investment. With partners, he owns several multiscreen movie theaters and is building a new one in the historic Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. His organization also includes the Teleticket ticket service, which sells all the tickets to his musicals. He has been involved in the production of U.S. films, including “JFK” and “Carlito’s Way,” Theil says.

Deyhle grew up in Stuttgart, but Theil says there was no sentimentality at work in his decision to build a new theater there. Some 22 million people live within a 125-mile radius of the south German city. “It’s enough people,” says Theil.

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