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Raise the red standard

By Liao Danlin (Global Times)

10:41, January 08, 2013

Promotional poster for new musical Red Lantern ( Photo:Courtesy of Zhu Ting/GT)

After years of academic research on Chinese music, Zhou Yingchen, an associate professor at Peking University, finally decided to get out of the library and do something practical. Zhou and her fellows from Peking University's Research Centre of Ethnic Musical Theatre School of Arts are producing their first original musical - Red Lantern. It will run January 16-20 at the Beijing Tianqiao Theater.

It has been a few decades since musicals began developing in China, but the emphasis has mainly been on business and less about the show. For Zhou, it's fine to watch all the old and new Western musicals in China but in the end, "We need to produce our own," she said.

Choosing the right text

Many original musicals have already been produced in China: The Princess of Wencheng about Tibet; Nursery School of Red Capital from Yan'an; and the red-themed Sister Jiang.

On one occasion, Zhou showed a long list of Chinese musicals to her students, but to her dismay they hadn't heard of or seen any of them. Her research found that nearly all the productions were the result of some specific project. "[Someone says] 'We need a musical for praising Kunlun Mountain,' so they write a musical on it," she said.

This typical scenario is repeated all around the country to promote regional tourism. Such shows are created for either drawing people to a scenic place or to celebrate a festival. In each case, creativity is forced to follow certain rules. Also, since the people hired to create the shows are not accomplished professionals in the field, it is almost impossible to produce a high-quality original show.

"It just doesn't work," Zhou said. To avoid the same pitfalls many of the local productions had previously made, she played it safe.

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