‘West Side Story’ set for Chinese bow

BEIJING — “West Side Story” will make history on Thursday when it becomes the first-ever Western musical to be licensed in China.

It will also be the first time a Western musical will be presented as a Chinese production, with an all-Chinese cast performing in Cantonese for this week’s debut.

Freddie Gershon, president of Music Theatre Intl., which authorized and licensed the production, is in Beijing representing the authors, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein’s estate.

Discussions are already under way about future Chinese productions of “Guys and Dolls,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Les Miserables,” which Music Theatre also licenses internationally. The company is negotiating for a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Russia, which Gershon called “another cultural breakthrough.”

Music Theatre also plans to form a co-venture in Beijing with Cherry Lane Music to license additional American musicals to be produced in China. Plans call for American and other international corporations that do business in China to sponsor the productions.

The initial Chinese run of “West Side Story” is scheduled for eight weeks. Gershon said, “The fact that the People’s Republic of China approved the licensing of the intellectual property known as the dramatic performing right to the Broadway musical marks a breakthrough in the world of protecting intellectual property rights that emanate from the U.S.”

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