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Playing It for the First Time

Casablanca, immortalized for generations of filmgoers by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart and the line "Play it again, Sam!" is coming to the stage.

The Warner Bros theatrical production, due to open next month, will be the first live show to premiere in China before going on the global circuit.

Two years ago, the Los Angeles-based choreographer John Clifford, pitched the idea of turning the classic movie into a live-stage show to Warner Bros Theater Ventures executive Vice-President Greg Maday.

Initially he said no, but the seed of the idea stuck.

Maday asked Clifford to stage a half-hour workshop at the UCLA theatre last August, and got the go ahead to mount a production.

Maday came up with the idea of launching the show in China, and with the help of the veteran Australian producer Patrick Condon who is familiar with Chinese show business, found a local partner in the China Arts & Entertainment Group (CAEG).

"Warner Bros are showing their faith in China by launching their most precious asset Casablanca for the first time on stage," said Condon who has worked in China's performing arts circle for 18 years.

Warner Bros has invested US$4 million in producing the show plus US$2 million on cast and crew, said Ellen R.Eliasoph, managing director of their Beijing Representative Office.

"Beijing has a massive entertainment market and we believe Casablanca will be a huge hit here to be followed by other western markets," she said.

The production is turning out to be an international collaborative effort. Performers have been brought together from Europe, South America, the US and China, while the production staff is from Hollywood, China and Australia.

The costumes are being made in Hong Kong, New York, Italy and India and the sets built in Hollywood and the Chinese mainland.

The musical score is being recorded in Hollywood and produced by Shawn Murphy who has been responsible for major scores by John Williams, the composer of Star Wars, E.T and many other blockbusters.

Maday is inviting presenters from around Asia to the premiere, hoping it will result in tours of the region, encompassing Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia.

For CAEG, formerly the China Performing Arts Agency (CPAA), Casablanca is an important step in demonstrating the company is no longer simply an agency.

Established in 1957 by the Ministry of Culture, the CPAA, the oldest performing arts agency in China, has brought in numerous shows from abroad and sent many domestic productions overseas.

In recent years, it has been involved in producing Chinese kungfu and acrobatics shows, some of which have toured abroad.

But it was not until Casablanca that the Chinese entertainment giant began collaborating with Western counterparts on a production. And the idea of holding a premiere in Beijing ahead of a world tour is certainly novel.

"It's time to produce big productions now, since we have gained much experience over a long time," said Zhang Yu, president of CAEG.

"We still have much to learn, so it is a good opportunity to work on such a hit show with Warner Bros who have many of the best creative and marketing people," he said.

(China Daily March 28, 2005)

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