Sylvester Levay

JANUARY FAVOURITE: Rebecca the Musical

With recent news of extended rights for the ill-fated Rebecca the musical, it seems the German show based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel is finally destined to hit the Broadway stage. With music by Sylvester Levay and book and lyrics by Michael Kunae, Rebecca received its stage debut in Vienna in 2006 and has since been translated into several different languages for successful international productions. Having read the novel last year and viewed the Hitchcock adaption many times, I have developed my own understanding of this haunting and timeless tale of obsession. With the whispers of a subtitled German production available on YouTube, I simply couldn’t resist taking a peak at what could have been – and still could be – the next big Broadway hit.

The show, much like the novel and movie, opens with the central character (nameless in both the novel and movie but christened “Ich” in the German musical) dreaming of returning to Manderley, the seemingly haunted mansion where she and her mysterious husband Maxim once lived. The original novel may be closing in on its eightieth anniversary but I believe the twists and turns of the plot line are still so shocking and intense that I do not wish to spoil the story for anyone who has not yet encountered the tale.
As expected by a musical, many of the intentions and emotions of the characters are revealed much quicker through the use of lyrics. The result is a somewhat less mysterious Maxim and an increasingly haunting Mrs Danvers as the audience gains insight to her mind. Without the aid of the second Mrs de Winter’s narration, much of the required background information is revealed to the audience through the use of a chattering ensemble who often gossip amongst themselves during some weak musical numbers such as the irritating ‘Wir Sind Britisch’ (We are British) which was rightfully cut after a short time in the show. In an extensive list of songs, only a handful are memorable. The title song is haunting and the opening number provides an excellent introduction.
The musical numbers are often and consistent, the style straying from the typical 1920s vibes expected from a show set in this time which adds to the air of mystery and the other worldliness of Manderley. However, where the music and lyrics succeeds, the character development fails. In my experience with the story of Rebecca, one of the most interesting aspects is her apparently constant presence in which “her footsteps sounded in the corridor” and “her scent lingered on the stairs.” This aspect suffers without the narration present in the novel; the loyal Mrs Danvers is merely highlighted as a servant obsessed with her dead mistress and as a result of sinister music accompanying her scenes, Mrs Danvers is portrayed as a larger enemy than the illustrious Rebecca.
The staging is a visual treat with lighting and scenery contributing to the creepy story. The physical appearance of most characters faithfully follows the descriptions present in the novel and, on occasions, the narrator’s talent for description is present in the lyrics of her songs. Overall, Rebecca is an enjoyable show which I believe will gather interesting reviews from Broadway critics if it is fortunate enough to finally secure its place in New York. With an engaging story line and quirky musical numbers, there’s something for everyone in this spooky show of deception and intrigue.