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WNYC Presents Baz on Broadway

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Australian film director Baz Luhrmann, known for such visually dazzling movies as Moulin Rouge and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, brings his lavish new stage version of Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème to Broadway this month. Normally, the prospect of a full-length, 19th-century Italian opera sung by a virtually unknown cast would frighten even the most seasoned Broadway producer. Yet this has emerged as one of the most anticipated events of the theater season, combining the endlessly popular opera with one of today's most audacious auteurs.

WNYC takes a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of this new production on December 15 at 4pm and 10pm on 93.9 FM. "Baz on Broadway" features exclusive interviews with members of the cast and crew, music from La Bohème, and audio clips from the New York production of the tragic love story of Mimi and Rodolfo.

WNYC producers Judith Kampfner and Aaron Cohen were two of the handful of reporters granted ongoing access to the production's development over the past six months. Their documentary features interviews with Luhrmann, as well as producers Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum, music director Constantine Kitsopoulos, and all of the young operatic stars in the production. Luhrmann is known for his films Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge was nominated for eight Academy Awards last year, including Best Picture, and won two. Producers Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum are known for their productions of RENT and De La Guarda. RENT won six Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Bringing Puccini to the People

As we learn in this documentary, Luhrmann and company conducted an exhaustive two-year international talent search for this production, auditioning more than 2,000 twenty-something singers, before finally settling on 50 ensemble members and three sets of Mimis and Rodolfos. The decision to go with a rotating cast was made to avoid straining the young stars' voices given the rigorous schedule of a Broadway show. Sets and costumes are being designed as usual by Luhrmann's wife, Catherine Martin (pictured with Luhrmann, right), who won two Academy Awards for her work on Moulin Rouge.

Another major directorial decision involved setting. While the original libretto for La Bohème is set in 1840's Paris, Luhrmann has updated the backdrop to the Bohemian left bank of Paris in 1957. ("This Rebel Without a Cause setting makes the story sexier and clear," he explains in his production notes.) Luhrmann's original production of La Bohème opened in 1990 to rave reviews and went on to become the biggest hit in Sydney Opera House history. This new production tried out at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, where it played to packed houses and prompted the San Francisco Chronicle to laud, "Simply sensational. Sets a new standard for musical theater." (Photo: Luhrmann in a 1985 college yearbook moment.)

The curtain officially went up on the New York production on December 8, greeted by a star-packed audience at the Broadway Theatre. Critics came along for the ride as well, and a wave of mostly positive reviews followed. The New York Times called it "both the coolest and the warmest show in town, an enchanted mixture of self-conscious artistry and emotional richness."

La Bohème on Broadway · At the Broadway Theater · 1653 Broadway · 212-239-6200

Official Web site
Official site for Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann Biography
A Sampling of Critical Reaction