Based on the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name, the German musical Rebecca tells the dark tale of an unnamed young woman (referred to simply as “Ich” meaning “I” or “Me”) who marries a man she meets while on holiday. Upon returning to his stately home, Manderley, she finds the oppressive memory of his recently deceased wife, Rebecca, everywhere. Though most of the staff treat her with respect and are pleased that she is less demanding than the former Mrs. de Winter, the imposing Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s former employee and confidant, is always reminding the main character that Rebecca’s drowning does not change the fact that the house belongs to her and always will.
Mrs. Danvers, as we quickly learn, is devoted to Rebecca even after death and has kept Manderley in the exact state it was in when Rebecca was still living. Mrs. Danvers doesn’t simply inform the new Mrs. de Winter that she cannot live up to her predecessor; she insists that Manderley itself still calls for Rebecca and that her return from the misty realm of the dead is a certainty. Despite our main character’s insistence that the dead have no way of affecting the living, she is clearly unnerved by Mrs. Danvers’s unshakable belief in Rebecca’s presence. Mrs. Danvers may not be wrong in this belief, as Mrs. de Winter notices that her new husband seems preoccupied with his late wife and that every room in the house holds more than an echo of its previous owner.
Most of the music in the show has a haunting quality to it, sometimes downright frightening in its intensity:
I had heard of this musical but only very recently had I actually sat down to watch it (after seeing an absolutely incredible performance of the above song in Korean. Click here to be floored.) and really enjoyed it. The music is excellent when it’s dark and imposing, but a little less impressive when it’s lighthearted. I was particularly irked by this song, which I can only describe as an imitation of Les Misérables’ “Beggars at the Feast” sung by a character nowhere near as interesting as the Thénardiers. I don’t think the lighthearted songs are particularly bad or out of place, but they don’t always come at the most opportune times. A little shuffling of the song order and perhaps some light character re-working would help.
The musical has been a great success in German and, as such, has been translated into several languages and produced internationally. An English production was finally set to open on Broadway last year, but unfortunately the production became its own horror story when one producer allegedly died, another withdrew after receiving a threatening e-mail, and then finally the truth came out that many of the producers never actually existed.
The musical was already quite far in its development when the missing money was finally called for. The cast had been set, the theater booked, and sets and costumes were ready to be created. Since Rebecca was so ready to begin, the producers continued their efforts to raise the remaining capital and currently aim to open the Broadway production next year.
After all this trouble, one can only hope that the finished product is a success, but unfortunately the precedent is somewhat set against it. Tanz der Vampire, Notre-Dame de Paris, Roméo et Juliette, de la Haine à l’Amour have all been foreign hits that flopped in English. The only one I’m very familiar with is Notre-Dame and I explained some of the problems with it before. I think Rebecca stands a better chance of success, with better sets and narrative. The translation also sounds pretty good and thankfully the show isn’t entirely sung-through, since translating dialogue is far easier than lyrics.
Perhaps Rebecca can be the first of these big Europop musicals to succeed. It has a lot against it at this point, but it still holds a lot of promise. Perhaps it will go down in flames like so many before it, though. Only time will tell.