October 23, 2012


One might have hoped that by now we'd be talking about an Original Broadway Cast album of Sylvester Lévay's Broadway debut as a composer of major musicals. Instead all tongues that wag about current events on "The Great White Way" are wagging in heads that are shaking in disbelief as the project – the huge musical based on Daphne Du Maurier's novel Rebecca – disintegrates amid criminal charges of financial fraud.

Rebecca is the latest in a long line of big, melodic musicals that Lévay has composed in partnership with book and lyric writer Michael Kunze. Their first big hit was 1992's Elizabeth, based on the life (and death) of the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. It was said by Variety to be the most successful German-language musical of all time. I assume they meant "modern musical" and wouldn't include the category of lyric theater usually called "opera." Surely works by Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner might challenge Lévay's Elizabeth for the title "most successful German-language musical of all time".

In 1999 Lévay and Kunze followed Elizabeth with a bio-musical of that most successful of composers of operas, symphonies, concertos and chamber music, Mozart! (The exclamation point is theirs, not mine.) Both Elizabeth and Mozart! premiered in Vienna.  2006 saw the opening of two of their musicals, a bio-musical of Marie Antoinette that debuted in Tokyo and Rebecca which opened in German in Vienna.

None of these have had a Broadway production, however.

That was supposed to change last January when a $12 million to $14 million production of Rebecca, mounted by first-time Broadway producer Ben Sprecher and experienced producer Louise Forlenza, was to open at the Broadhurst Theatre. It was to star Karen Mason as Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper of the Cornish mansion Manderley, Ryan Silverman as the mansion's owner, the widower Maxim de Winter, and Jill Paice as the new woman in his life. It could also be said that it was to star a set designed by Peter J. Davidson for the story climaxes with a fire which engulfs the entire stage.

Sprecher and Forlenza hit financial difficulties and the opening was announced to be postponed to November. At one point the story spread that a multi-million dollar investor had suddenly died in London (of malaria no less) but that the producers hoped that his estate would honor his commitment to invest funds which hadn't actually arrived at the time of his supposed death. Then the New York Times started asking questions – such as "why can't we find so much as an obituary if this multi-millionaire actually existed?" When Sprecher's response to queries into the extent of his effort to confirm the mysterious investor's existence amounted to "I did a Google search on him," the wagging of tongues took on classic proportions. Would even Max Bialystock fall for this? 

Last week Federal officers arrested Mark Hotton and charged him with fabricating the prospects of $4.5 million in investments for Rebecca for which he was to receive a commission. Without those millions, and with the production set to begin rehearsals, the producers finally threw in the towel announcing "Rebecca will not be sung on Broadway this fall." 

It was a tragedy for the cast, the creative team and the crew whose jobs evaporated overnight. It was also unfortunate for those of us who looked forward to seeing and hearing this show in its English language Broadway incarnation. I was particularly looking forward to this production because my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing the show when it played the beautiful Budapest Operettszínház in Hungary and found it a thrilling experience notwithstanding the fact that we didn't speak the language. 

Even without an Original Broadway Cast album, however, you can still hear what the score has to offer. As the show premiered in Vienna, Austria, the cast went into a studio to create a gorgeous 22-cut recording of the songs in German. Later, after the show had become a substantial hit at the Raimund Theater, a live recording was made which has been released as a two-disc 44-cut package with all musical numbers and all the dialog. 

The production we saw in Budapest was also captured in a studio recording. There the lyrics were translated into the Hungarian language, Magyar. It is a less guttural, more sonorous language and the lyrics benefit from that somewhat more romantic sound - this is, after all, a full out romance. Of the two versions, the Hungarian is my favorite and the one I'd recommend, although it has fewer cuts (16) with fewer reprises and doesn't have the song "Wir sind britisch" ("We Are British"). To my ears, that was the weakest number in the German language version, and the show benefited from its deletion.  

Overall, the score is reminiscent of other large scope romantic musicals. Think of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Aspects of Love, Paul Gordon's Jane Eyre, Jill Santoriello's A Tale of Two Cities or Frank Wildhorn's Rudolf - Affaire Mayerling

Of course, it doesn't sound exactly like any one of those. It has its own sound and its own charms. 

Lévay is a strong melodist and he can craft tunes that tend to stick in the mind. Such is the case with the title song of Rebecca, its atmospheric theme of the house where much of the romance is set, Manderley, the introductory chant that the servants use to praise the late mistress of the house, Mrs. DeWinter, and the emphatic claim to command of Maxim's bride "I Am Mrs. DeWinter!" Two lighter numbers, which approach music hall style with equally memorable melodies, are "One Hand Washes The Other" and "I'm an American Woman." 

All three recordings are available through Amazon, but they are less expensive when ordered from SoundOfMusic, a store in Essen, Germany, with an easy to use website with an English language option. ( They charge more for shipping than Amazon, but theirs is a flat rate for up to four discs and there are many interesting discs in their catalog.

Whichever recording you chose you will find that all of this is performed with full, lush orchestral backing and a large ensemble. It is a thoroughly satisfying sonic experience, but I'll save a slot on my theater shelf for the English language recording in the hope that a Broadway production will finally open and be recorded.

Rebecca - A Maderley-Ház Asszonya
Universal Music - Zebra 2742245
Running time 48 minutes over 16 cuts on one disc
Amazon price $34.99
SoundOfMusic price €23.95 (the equivalent of $31.28 at today's exchange rate)

Rebecca - Das Musical 
Studio Recording of the Vienna Premiere (in German)
Hit Squad Records

Running time 63 minutes over 22 cuts on one disc 
Amazon price $28.93
SoundOfMusic price €16.95 (the equivalent of $22.14 at today's exchange rate)

Rebecca - Das Musical - (Gesamtaufnahme)
Live recording of the Vienna Premiere (in German)
2 hours 43 minutes over 45 cuts on two discs
Hit Squad Records

Amazon price $35.62
SoundOfMusic price €23.95 (the equivalent of $31.28 at today's exchange rate)