We were lucky enough to be a part of a press trip to Berlin last month, to check out the institution that is the Friedrichstadt-Palast and their Grand Shows. The current show VIVID, on until mid-2020, is an array of songs, costumes and spectacle that will blow your mind and leave you wanting more.
First things first, VIVID Grand Show is exceptional. Really. It’s as breath-taking and “wow” as you would expect a 21st century revue to be. Especially one taking place in an institution filled with so much history as in Berlin. VIVID is all about the journey of R’eye, who gets lost from her dad, and the encounters she has along the way. Many a metaphor, the show is so universal that it doesn’t matter where your language skills fall, you need not understand any German to enjoy it. You can instead, find out about her journey through music, acrobatics, dancing, costumes, special effects and the glamour of VIVID.
The costumes and stage designs were something else. Channelling the most extra Cirque de soleil you could imagine and ramp it up a notch. Then you might be close to the details from VIVD. The costumes were designed by Stefano Canulli whose main focus was on bright, rainbow colours and eye-catching and useful design. This years designer was milliner Philip Treacy. Yes, that same hat maker for the Queen and the royal family, Gaga and the Beckhams. Him. The hats were extraordinary, and the technology in the hats was amazing too. You quite literally have to see it to believe that you can coordinate dance moves, show girls and colour-changing hats.
Colour is one of the main things about this show. And there is so much of it, it is so important in every aspect. The set design was also one of those things that oozed colour. Michael Cotton’s creation didn’t let VIVID down on this one. To help you imagine it better, his previous sets have been for Katy Perry, Bette Midler and Michael Jackson, so he knows what he’s doing and ensured that it was as camp, glitzy and clever as it could be. From the Eurovision-esque frogs on flower stems, to the giant moving butterflies and glitterball bowler hat, it’s sure to blow your mind.
Every part of VIVID is aesthetically brilliant. You can see a snippet of the show in the trailer here.
The songs, music and dancing
This show is one of superlatives, and with the biggest production budget ever (12 million Euros). There are over 100 artists performing in VIVID. Without giving too much away, aside from the amazing Friedrichstadt-Palast’s own amazing dance troupe, there are additional troupes such as the Navas Troupe. They form one of the highlights of the show with an acrobatic feat that will leave you gripping the edge of your well air-conditioned seat. “Double Wheels of Steel” is not the only acrobatics throughout, some of which was performed with reason and some seemingly just to show off talent. We didn’t care at all as we were so entertained.
Alexandra Georgieva, Dean Lee and Leo Mujic inspire the amazing and original choreography. Again, there were parts that would make the Moulin Rouge and Radio City Rockettes fear for their jobs though! At no point did the dancing feel like an extra throughout the show; the only thing that we questioned at any points were the fully original songs. The songs were performed well, but they were lacking in any pop banger campness. The sound design, however, is brilliant. It is all played with a live band throughout – they even make cameos in the story.
In a show where no one is a main part, they are all stars, the director is the most important part. A woman is directing the Grand show, for the first time in over 100 years of history. Krista Monson has done the women of the world proud with the show that she has pulled together. There are moments in which you can tell her eye for detail and sensibilities pay off. Something which perhaps a man would have missed. Also, she also directs a revue in which gender is questioned, subverted and irrelevant. A breath of fresh air in 2019.
Before VIVID, Monson had worked with Cirque du Soleil. This is clear from some of the modern takes on the Cirque formula. The Friedrichstadt Palace’s stage is the largest stage of its kind in Europe and VIVID is the most expensive production in the theater’s history. It’s easy to understand why. Every inch of space on the enormous VIVID stage has been filled. Filled with projections, moving sets, unbelievable costumes and headpieces, singers, dancers, and gymnasts. The lighting design by Chris Moylan and Video design by Maxin10sity are both out of this world.
Friedrichstadt-Palast is infamous, although that has negative connotations, perhaps that is best explored through a run through of its history. Although the current building has only been there since the Soviet controlled years of 1984, there has been something creating a sense of community in the area since the mid-19th Century. In 1867 a market hall was constructed there, but when business wasn’t good, it became an arena for a circus, with a 5000 person capacity. The circus was successful until the economic downturn with the First World War.
However, luck was to change again as Max Reinhardt took over the theatre, and put on plays and operas for the community. It was known as ‘The Oresteia by Aeschylus’ and was successful throughout the liberal arts revolution in Berlin in the 1920s. With the Great Depression came the rise of the Nazis, who saw the theatre as a large arena in which they could indoctrinate the German people. Renaming it the ‘Theater des Volkes’, the plan was to have it as a starting point for a huge arena for Nazi Rallies, in the centre of the planned ‘Germania’.
During the Second World War, the building suffered much bomb damage, like the rest of Berlin. Therefore, the building was abandoned in 1949. It was paritally restored and used as a Soviet place of, you guessed it, indoctrination of the masses until 1980. Because of the damage from the war and the poor repairs, it was scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt to be used only for non-public uses. In April 1984, the new Palace was opened and as the most sizable show palace on the continent, it boasts an impressive interior and exterior that pays homage to its roots. The sculptor Emilia N. Bayer was commissioned to create reliefs that harken back to its vaudeville and circus beginnings. Today the Communist style is kept and repaired to remember the important History of the site.
We were lucky enough to speak to the Friedrichstadt Palace’s General Manager, Dr. Berndt Schmidt. Not only does he embrace the Palace’s history in order to move forward; but he is proud to be making a statement with his art in a time where people need to speak up. In order to put on shows like VIVD, the Palace receives state funding and this also keeps ticket costs affordable for everyone. It is in troubled times like now where this creates issues for him in terms of standing up for what he believes in for the arts and democracy and equality. One way he has got round that with VIVID this year, is to make it all about the tag line: respect each other.
VIVID is a celebration of equality, of diversity and of democracy. Something that Dr Schmidt is keen to impress on all visitors without preaching; knowing that people will make up their own minds. He said that VIVID is there to remind people to respect each other no matter what they want to do. He also hopes that VIVID will pull people out of the darkness of the current world.
Berlin should be proud to have the institution, Dr Schmidt and the VIVID Grand Show. It is well worth a visit if you’re there, or a flight there just to see it. More information available at https://www.palast.berlin/en/show/vivid-grand-show/