Uschi Neuss: Live entertainment – The most impressive way of telling stories

Since the founding of Stage Entertainment Germany in 2001, more than 60 ­million people from all over Germany have experienced a musical first hand, making musicals the by far most popular cultural event in Germany. Hamburg is the undisputed musical capital of Germany and the city where Stage Entertainment has based its headquarters.

 

The foundations for the city of Hamburg’s rise to musical metropolis were laid in the year of 1986, when theatre producer Fritz Kurz acquired the licence to stage the musical CATS in Germany from Andrew Lloyd Webber. The city of Hamburg allowed him to use the Operettenhaus theatre at Spielbudenplatz at little cost. He couldn’t possibly anticipate the enormous success that the first commercial musical production would bring. Four years later, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was staged in a newly built theatre, the Neue Flora. This musical also turned out to be a huge success with the audience and paved the way for a complete infrastructure based on a phenomenon that was entirely new in Germany: that musicals were capable of attracting audiences and running to packed houses eight times a week for years on end. Actors and actresses from all over the world had the opportunity to prove their talents on stage. Hotels and restaurants, travel organisers, advertisers, retailers and ticket agencies alike were able to reap the profits of this new form of entertainment that sparked the curiosity of people from all over Germany.

This was followed by a short and more sober phase, when the event organiser – the publicly listed Stella AG – realised that they had been wrong to assume that it was possible to run every musical without end. As a result, the company was forced to declare insolvency in 2002. In the meantime, a new competitor had entered the German market with the strategy of putting the audience at the centre of theatrical productions and focusing on its core business of live entertainment production: the Stage Entertainment company of the Dutch theatre and TV entrepreneur Joop van den Ende. With the glamorous premieres of Disney’s THE LION KING at the Theater im Hafen Hamburg and MAMMA MIA! at the Operettenhaus, Stage Enter­­tainment was able to revive the genre in Hamburg at the turn of the millennium. In 2002, Stage acquired nearly all national theatres of the former Stella AG and opened up its German headquarters in spacious offices and studios in the historic Speicherstadt. The foyers, theatre halls and stage technology in the three big theatres were renovated and refurbished thoroughly. Rounded off with elegant bars, contemporary art collections, welcoming employees and, most importantly, consistently high artistic quality of the productions as a top priority, this philosophy was met with great success and has enjoyed huge popularity among the audience ever since.

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In 2007, Stage Entertainment celebrated the world premiere of the first original German musical: ICH WAR NOCH NIEMALS IN NEW YORK (I have never been to New York) with songs by the great performer Udo Jürgens. This production paved the way for other original musicals such as HINTERM HORIZONT, ROCKY and the most recent DAS WUNDER VON BERN. All of these musicals were developed and composed in Hamburg. Combining the local creative potential with the expertise of renowned international theatre producers was not only beneficial from an artistic point of view, but also helped strengthen the reputation and relevance of Hamburg as the place to be when it comes to staging and developing successful musicals.Furthermore the world market also plays an important role: Thanks to decades of successful partnership with Disney Theatricals, for example, we managed to bring top shows such as TARZAN or ALADDIN to Hamburg, following the success of the THE LION KING.

Another important milestone for the city of Hamburg – and a venture with high entrepreneurial risk for us – was our decision to build a fourth large musical theatre in Hamburg. The Stage Theater an der Elbe was opened in an exciting ceremony in 2014. Our self-developed musical DAS WUNDER VON BERN proved us right: If and when the staged musicals are of a good quality and very well received by the audience, each of these musicals will succeed in creating its own demand. In light of this, we were able to attract an additional 500,000 visitors without making any financial loss to the other three theatres in Hamburg. This meant that we managed to increase our external customers’ value – i.e. turnover that is due to musical-goers, but made by the local tourist industry – to 680 million euros, a plus of more than 20 per cent compared to previous years.

Neubau-Eröffnung Stage Theater an der Elbe, November 2014.  V.l.n.r.: Hamburgs Erster Bürgermeister Olaf Scholz, Stage Entertainment Germany  Geschäftsführerin Uschi Neuss, Janine und Joop van den Ende (Gründer Stage Entertainment)

Neubau-Eröffnung Stage Theater an der Elbe, November 2014.
V.l.n.r.: Hamburgs Erster Bürgermeister Olaf Scholz, Stage Entertainment Germany
Geschäftsführerin Uschi Neuss, Janine und Joop van den Ende (Gründer Stage Entertainment)

The reason why we mention so many numbers and figures is the fact that the musical industry is one of the few cultural genres in Germany that has to make do without sub­sidies. We simply do not have any other option than to strive for entrepreneurial success – and do so with a product that requires investment in the two-digit million range for every new show and does not guarantee to become a popular success. Sometimes, we really miss our mark. But more often than not, we hit the spot with the audience and succeed in sparking curiosity of new target audiences with new narrative styles, subjects or music genres. So what is the magical allure of musicals? First of all, it is the live experience, which is best summarised in a quote from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 29 July 2016 on the recent HARRY POTTER production in London: “The audience is enthralled by the production, as the theatre, in spite of being an art form with a somewhat archaic charm, creates a gripping sense of im­mediacy.” Another important factor is that the unity of dance, song, orchestra and acting is more intense in musicals than in any other theatrical genre; that the subject matters that musicals deal with are inviting and inspiring to the audience, without them having to go through an abstract libretto days before the staging. And last but not least, that musicals make use of production methods that fully tap the potential of modern theatre. I warmly invite all readers of this book to experience the magic of musicals for themselves.

uschi-neussUschi Neuss
The author studied history, theatre, film and television in Cologne. After working at an auditors’ company for seven years, she took on a new challenge in the theatre industry. She worked at Stella AG from 1996 to 2000, most recently as the mana­ging director of Neue Flora in Hamburg. In 2000, she joined Stage Entertainment Germany and has been responsible for all running productions since 2001 as Director Theatre Operations. In September 2013, she was appointed managing director of Stage Entertainment Germany.