The storming of a Moscow theater last month by Chechen gunmen during a performance and the ensuing hostage crisis brought an end to an immensely popular musical. Several cast members were among those who died in the crisis, and the sets and costumes were destroyed. The surviving members of the cast recently reprised some of the songs from the show at two benefit concerts to pay tribute to those who died and to raise money to bring the musical back to the stage.
The performance was scheduled before the hostage crisis. It was supposed to be a celebration of the first anniversary of one of Russia's most popular theatrical productions, the musical Nord-Ost, a story of love and adventure from the Russian Revolution through World War II.
Instead, the concert marked two weeks since the play's run ended tragically. The second act was getting under way on October 23, when a group of gunmen burst onto the stage, taking the actors and some 800 people in the audience hostage. Two days later, Russian soldiers burst in to end the siege. Most of the attackers and 128 of the hostages were killed. Seventeen cast members were among the dead.
Producers of the show and members of the cast decided to transform what was supposed to be a birthday performance into a memorial to honor those who died.
Surviving members of the Nord-Ost cast were joined by other performers in Moscow who wanted to show their support. They performed songs from popular musicals such as Cats and Phantom of the Opera, as well as many of the most popular songs from Nord-Ost, which means North-East in German.
For many of those who sang and danced, it was their first time on stage since the night the hostage crisis began.
They performed the same song that was being sung when the gunmen burst into the theater. One of the eight men who usually performs the song is still in the hospital.
At the beginning of the gala performance, one of the show's producers, Georgy Vasilyev, asked for a moment of silence for those who died, and people in the crowd rose to their feet and bowed their heads.
Mr. Vasilyev also spoke about the importance of performing songs from Nord-Ost, even if performances of the musical itself have been halted.
Mr. Vasilyev said, "This stage here is the only way we can show that Nord-Ost is alive," he said.
Nord-Ost may be alive but just barely.
The building that served as a theater was damaged by shooting, spattered blood and the wear of 800 people being held captive for more than three days. The sets and props were destroyed. Costumes were torn up when hostages used the fabric as ropes to climb out the windows to safety. The orchestra pit was used as a toilet.
Two weeks later, in another theater, in another part of Moscow, there were still signs that many people are on edge after the hostage-crisis. During the benefit concert, the master of ceremonies stopped mid-speech, and looked up to where a light was malfunctioning and crackling.
Many people in the audience looked around nervously, worried that there might be something more seriously wrong than a malfunctioning light bulb.
Still, judging from the size of the crowd, there will be no shortage of spectators if and when Nord-Ost returns to the stage. Hundreds of people packed the concert hall for the almost three hour show. After every number, fans rushed the stage with flowers, hugs and kisses for the performers.
Among those who came to watch the performance were Natasha Sidrova, her husband and son. She says she didn't know anyone who was in the theater during the hostage crisis, but like most people in Russia, for those few days, she didn't pay attention to anything else. She said her family came here to show their support for the people who suffered and died.
At the benefit concert, there was a strong feeling that the show must go on. Nord-Ost's producers hope to raise money from these concerts to bring the show back to the stage. And the government has promised to help finance the production and to pay the salaries of many of the cast members as they try to find a new place to perform.
They may also take the show on the road, performing throughout Russia for people like Natasha Sidrova, who feel such a strong connection to the show they've never seen and the performers they've never met.