Making musicals about complex historical figures is no easy undertaking. Recall the episode of Friends where Joey stars in a musical about Freud, and sings “All you want is a dingle”. Exactly.
What about if all you want is some dialectical materialism, topped off with a finale in class war?
This is the ambition of He Nian who is staging a musical about Karl Marx. According to the China Daily, the Chinese director plans a song and dance extravaganza that will celebrate the life and ideas of the German philosopher. He plans to stage Das Kapital at Shanghai’s Dramatic Arts Centre, and will use a live band, as well as animation and new media.
The plot revolves around office workers (the proletariat) and their boss (the capitalist exploiter). In the words of He Nian, it is designed to be “fun to watch” and will “bring Marx’s theories to life in a trendy, interesting and educational play.”
The script is near completion and is even being supervised by an academic advisory board. Fudan University economics professor Zhang Jun sits on the board, and it is his job to ensure Marxist concepts are properly distilled.
Marx, whose single best known idea is “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, has been largely out of a favour in China since 1978. But the director reckons that the current financial crisis – and the failure of capitalism in the West – make him relevant again.
He Nian also believes money-driven Shanghai is the perfect venue for his ‘socialism with singing characteristics’ show. China Daily notes the director’s previous work includes the famous martial arts spoofs Crazy Craziness and My Own Swordsman. But He Nian is adamant this will be a serious theatrical production and not a spoof, and says the play is inspired by conversations he had with friends who worked in offices and were recently been made redundant.
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