Musicals are striking a chord in China – thanks in large part to a popular reality show. CGTN’s Yang Chengxi gives us the score.
‘Super Vocal’ is China’s first talent contest for opera singers and musical performers that has gained mainstream traction.
Video website iQiyi, the show’s online distributor, ranked it the fifth-most-watched reality TV program nationwide. Musical industry veteran Wang Chen works with the show as a career councilor.
“Honestly I was a bit surprised,” the China Dream Live Entertainment COO said. “But the show did something right, form an all-male cast. About 70 percent of the target musical audiences in China are female.”
Wang helped adapt the Chinese version of Mamma Mia, the broadway classic. Although the industry is still young, he said there is a growing number of urban residents interested in this art form.
“The first time we adapted the musical, we had 80 shows in Beijing alone, which was unprecedented.”
But others said it’s rare for other musicals to sell out. While the number of shows has grown in recent years, revenue has been unstable at best; in 2017, musicals took in only 217 million yuan at the box office – a tiny fraction compared to movies.
Analysts said many factors are to blame. The essence of a musical is that it’s performed live. There’s no post-production safety net and the quality of the show depends solely on the skills of the actors.
Xue Chi is a vocal teacher at the Shanghai Theater Academy. He said there is great demand for classically trained talent if China wants to catch up in this industry.
“This musical part in China is still young so we need more professionals, actors, performers,” Xue explained. “Welcome to China, bring your high technique and teach us.”
The rising popularity for the genre has affirmed beliefs that more people will join the industry – from singers to performers, to scriptwriters. Composer Xu Lingqing is writing her first musical about urban white collar professionals.
She pointed out that, “I haven’t seen anyone write a musical on this topic that is very reflective of today’s society and today’s business environment in China.”
But it is difficult to start in an industry where resources are still limited.
“In China, in this environment right now, there are definitely a lot of issues with finding funding for new musicals like this one,” Xu admits. “There tends to be a lack of the entire ensemble of people who are needed to put together a musical.”
Experts said China is far from seeing a golden age for musicals and operas. But the rising public interest puts the industry on track to make it big.