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Broadway Musicals in Growing Demand in China

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Broadway productions have been, until recently, rare in Chinese theaters. But today, Western musicals are winning audiences across China. VOA's Heda Bayron in Beijing tells us more.

Straight from New York, the Tony-award winning "42nd Street" musical opened in Shanghai this month. The tap-dancing extravaganza, about a chorus girl turned big star, will tour six other Chinese cities this year.

This Broadway production is the first to have such an extensive touring scheduled in China and many more blockbuster musicals are expected to follow.

Broadway musicals - showcasing a lot of dancing and singing - are finding their way into theaters that have previously only showed traditional Chinese opera and patriotic dramas. Last year, Chinese audiences saw "West Side Story", "The Sound of Music" and "The Lion King".

U.S. producers and promoters say China's market liberalization and growing prosperity are fueling demand for Western theater.

Chris Verrill directs a local production of another Tony-award winner "Guys and Dolls" at the Beijing Playhouse. "The next big thing that grows after the economy is the arts. And I think English-language theater, Broadway musicals and all forms of art are being raised because of that. We're sort of riding a wave," he said.

Some foreign theater productions such as the French revolution-themed "Les Miserables" have been staged in China in recent years, but for limited runs.

In 2005, China's Ministry of Culture allowed foreign investments into the entertainment industry, allowing the creation of joint venture theater production companies. Until then, foreign producers faced high costs and tedious bureaucracy in bringing shows to China.

Joint venture companies can cut costs by hiring locals for some acting roles and in backstage, ticketing and other operations. Still tickets for "42nd Street's" Shanghai show costs as much as $186.

In a country where a large majority of the population is poor and does not understand English, Western musicals are for now, a treat for the affluent elite.

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