A New “Witches” Production Premieres Tonight in Bavaria

The new production of “Hexen” (“Witches“), the two women musical I created with Peter Lund, that is premiering tonight in Theater Hof, in northern Bavaria, Germany, has at least two strong claims to being very special.

The foyer of Theater Hof where “Hexen” will be performed.

The first is that it is live theatre being produced in the age of Covid 19. With practically all theater shuttered around the globe since March because of the pandemic – Broadway and all other live theatricals and concerts in NYC remain closed for the foreseeable future – this production at this theater is one of the few exceptions; theater that could be produced and presented under strict safety guidelines.

Theater Hof has been able to do this in part by moving the production from their regular theater stage to the theater’s cavernous foyer, where audiences will be seated six feet apart at cafe tables. It also helps that Germany has done a far better job keeping Covid 19 under control than many other countries, esp. the USA.

It is very moving to me that with so much if not all theater on hold everywhere, it has been possible to present a production of “Hexen”.

The second extra special aspect of this production is that it is the first “Hexen” in German that includes the American ending of “Witches”.

There have been dozens of “Hexen” productions over the years in Germany (plus Austria and Finland), but all of them used the original ending, which is different from the English language version, which I produced twice in the United States. But this new German production will be the first to include the American ending, with two completely new songs never before heard in Germany. I believe these are two of the more unique and beautiful tunes I have composed.

Carolin Waltsgott and Julia Leinweber in Hexen

So what’s the story with that?

When Peter Lund and I collaborated on “Hexen” many years ago, he writing the text, me composing the music, we created a musical about two modern day women who also just happen to be two witches, who just happen to have had 8 lives throughout the ages – as Eve, Lady Macbeth, Snow White’s Stepmom, the Gingerbreadlady, and many others – up through an eighth life dealing with modern life, love, family and career in womanly, witchy ways, and now facing the prospect of reincarnating into their ninth and final life.

After 90 minutes of songs and scenes that ping back and forth between the women/witches’ contemporary and past lives, the musical concludes with the journey into the ninth. Peter and I originally wrote an ambitious, sprawling finale full of drama and reprises and new music.

Long story short, late into rehearsals before the world premiere, it became clear the finale as written wasn’t working. 10 minutes of complex conclusion got cut, and instead an uptempo number from the first act was given new lyrics for a quick and dirty but effective finale reprise. And that’s the version that has been played overseas ever since.

But when I translated “Hexen” into English, Peter gave me leave to have another go at the more ambitious ending we’d originally intended. The American ending would not be as sprawling as the original cut ending, but still ambitiously metaphysical, and restoring the best of the lost music. That became the version that I produced in New York, twice.

Last year, the music director for this latest German production of Hexen contacted me, asking whether there were any recordings of the score. Even with dozens of productions over the years, there aren’t any recordings of the score in German (I know of), except for some YouTube excerpts, I told him. But I have archived complete recordings in English, and I made those available to the music director.

Long story short, the people in Hof heard the American ending with the new songs, and decided they wanted to use it in their production. Luckily I had long ago written a German translation of the new English lyrics for those songs. But then Hof also decided they wanted to perform the extra song reprises I’d written to give the American version an intermission. I found out about that the week before Hof went into rehearsals. I hadn’t yet written a German translation for those reprises, so that was a bit of a scramble; but thankfully it turns out, over twenty years after my last attempt, I’m still capable of writing decent lyrics in German. I think.

Peter and I are both eager to see how this alternate, extended version of Hexen will play in Hof. Back when I originally produced “Witches” in New York, we both speculated whether the more metaphysical American ending would be less palatable to a German audience. And maybe that would have been the case then, but perhaps not anymore.

Peter will be at the premiere tonight. And my mother will travel to Hof to see Hexen next month.

I however will not get the chance to see it myself. Because of Covid 19. And the abysmal way the USA has handled the pandemic. Americans are pretty much barred from traveling to Germany right now.

Eventually that will change, but when? Hexen in Hof is already sold out through January. Maybe they will add performances far enough into the future so that I will be able to fly over there and see it.

And see my mother and brother. And friends and godsons. All of whom I was going to see in Germany this March, before the world changed… and while disease and death and so much circumscription on normal life continues, including almost all live performances remaining on hold or possible only on line, two witches, with just a little magic, or just the right amount of capable adjusting to circumstances, are managing to bring live musical theater back to one corner of the world.

UPDATE 10/11 – I may not be able to see Hexen in Hof, but I can have fun with my favorite witch figurine.

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 40 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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