Nord-Ost: The First Week of a New Life

Nord-Ost revived
Actors in a press preview of Nord-Ost, Feb. 7, 2003 (Photo: Yuri Kochetkov/AFP).

The musical Nord-Ost has undergone a second birth. A repeat premiere of the revived show has been staged at the Dubrovka Theater Center, the site of a terrorist attack between Oct. 23-26, 2002. In the three months since, much has happened, both joyful and sad.

Because tickets had been sold to the musical in advance, people began showing up at the Nord-Ost ticket office after Oct. 23 to demand their money back. Only a few customers agreed to await a revival of the show or to exchange their tickets for the musical 42nd Street (Boris Krasnov offered the latter possibility to his colleagues in a display of solidarity). The great majority of ticketholders—three-quarters of them—preferred refunds.

Meanwhile, new actors came forward. There was a particularly large number for the children’s troupe, to the amazement of the theater’s teaching staff. Organizers are now hard at work on a plan to create a traveling version of the play.

The current production resembles the old one, and yet it is renewed. During theater repairs, a new layout was created for lighting and fireworks. This has made possible the improvement of some production effects. Thus, the final episode, during which the ship breaks out of a block of ice, is simply stunning. The orchestra pit platform moves, allowing the orchestra and the conductor to be displayed during sequences in which the musicians become full-fledged participants in the action: the overture, the dance of the pilots, and the finale. The choreography has undergone significant changes and has become notably more complex. The costumes are brighter, more colorful, and more festive. In general, the production seems to have matured artistically, transformed from an awkward teenager into a young beauty.

Right now is the time to see the play, to share one’s impressions with one’s friends, to tell them, “You’ve got to see it. There’s never been anything like it!” That’s the way it was in the beginning, when Nord-Ost first opened and attracted a mass of viewers—not because of direct advertising but because of the valuable reaction of the attending public. Will such an approach work again? On this score, the production’s organizers have little cause for joy.

The Nord-Ost tragedy, having interrupted the production’s natural life, cut off the potential theater-going public. The small numbers who will go to North-Ost out of a perverted sense of curiosity about the crime scene—in order to see from which windows the daredevils jumped and in which seats the suicide-terrorist sat—will soon fall off. At the Nord-Ost box office, they say that the level of sales does not suggest that performances will be sold out. The law of survival for a musical is such that if in a week or two, it doesn’t attract an audience, there is no choice but to close it.

Nevertheless, the producers haven’t given a thought to creating a different musical. “If your child falls ill, you don’t give birth to another,” Georgi Vasilyev told journalists, confirming his intention of doing everything to sustain Nord-Ost’s continued run.

We have to understand that Nord-Ost is, in the end, an artistic rather than a political event, that the slogan “Nord-Ost: a Moscow tourist attraction” suggests a creative rather than a criminal aspect of this phenomenon, that up until now, Nord-Ost occupies a unique niche, even against other Moscow musicals, from which no one can dislodge it. This is so if only because it is the sole Russian musical, and the sole family musical.