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With musical theater markets growing robustly in South Korea, Japan and Australia, China is taking a step toward increasing its relatively modest role in the industry by building a major new musical production center outside Beijing, according to the China Daily website.

The one-million square foot facility, which will include a theater and production facilities and is to be completed by 2017, will develop musicals that can run in Beijing and other cities nationwide, as well as promote the theater industry there. The new center, about 30 miles south of Beijing in the city of Langfang, Hebei province, is being financed by the local government and a Beijing-based company, Ovation Cultural Development, at a cost of around two billion yuan (about $320 million), according to the China Daily.

The center already has its first show in the works: A Mandarin-language adaptation of “Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical that explores love, mortality and regret through the lives of fairy-tale characters like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. According to China Daily, “Into the Woods” will play 100 performances in Beijing starting in November, then go on tour around the country next year. The “Into the Woods” run will coincide with the opening of a film version of the musical starring Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick.

Over the last decade well-known musicals like “Mamma Mia!” and “Cats” have had several productions in China, initially in English
. Now Mandarin-language versions of American and British shows are popular, with more than 300,000 people seeing a Mandarin-language “Mamma Mia!” in 2011, according to China Daily. But China is still in the early stages of developing a theater industry. It has a small but growing infrastructure for developing musicals, commissioning new work, and designing and building sets, costumes, and other elements of the physical productions; musical theater training for singers and dancers is minimal; and the costs of producing and touring there are expensive and often passed on to audience members through high ticket prices, sometimes $150 or more, putting musicals out of reach for many average Chinese.

The nation does have a string of giant performing arts centers that have opened or are under construction in major cities, but they need more shows to fill them. Several American producing companies, like Broadway Asia and Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment, have been increasingly deepening ties to producers and prospective partners in China, and the country is seen as a potentially huge audience market if the costs and logistics of producing theater there are made more favorable.

1 Comment – by Don Frantz

“Ovation Culture Development Company is unique in China because of their private funding from parent company ENN. They have assembled a professional team and understanding of international business standards. As their U.S. partner in INTO THE WOODS, I have been most impressed and look forward to the November opening of the mandarin language production at the PLA Theater in Beijing on November 8th playing through February 1”.

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