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Producers to Close Moscow Show Stormed by Chechen Gunmen Last Year - 2003-04-15

Two months after reopening in Moscow, the musical Nord Ost is leaving the theatre that was the scene of last October's deadly siege.

Producer Georgy Vasiliev says the decision to close the Moscow run of Nord Ost was unexpected. But Mr. Vasiliev says that while the curtain may be going down in Russia, a new cast and crew will soon be setting out to entertain audiences elsewhere from Bulgaria to Greece to Israel.

Nord Ost, which tells the tale of an Arctic explorer, returned to the now infamous Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow only three months after a siege by armed Chechen gunmen there left 129 hostages dead.

The Russian government was anxious to see Nord Ost resume at the Dubrovka theater as a symbol of victory over terrorism. But many organizers and cast were reluctant to return after the siege, to say nothing of the audience, according to Mr. Vasiliev.

He said in an interview with Russia's Interfax news agency that a $750,000 overhaul of the badly damaged theatre had not been enough to lure customers to return.

According to Mr. Vasiliev, ticket sales have declined by half from their sold-out highs of last fall. The director attributes the decline to fear.

The performance gained international notoriety when armed Chechen gunmen stormed the Dubrovka Theatre in a gritty Russian neighborhood and held 700 people hostage for three days.

Russian special forces later stormed the building using a special knockout gas to end the siege, killing more than 40 Chechen rebels. But more than 100 hostages also died from effects caused by the gas used in the storming.

Russians mourned the losses for several days by turning the lawn outside the Dubrovka theater into a sea of red and white carnations - the traditional funeral flower of Russia.

The curtain goes down on Nord Ost in Russia on May 10.