The most famous cats in the world are back: Andrew Lloyd Webber's successful musical, Cats, is running at the Musical Theater Basel until 22 May 2016. The original version is returning with two modernised songs, a rap and an aria. A visit to the location where Disney The Lion King broke all records last year – and where a major change is coming about as of August.
The classical musical is arriving in a new look. A new stage set, new costumes, and even two new songs – an aria and a rap song. "The original version in English has been slightly modernised", explains Chris Eichenberger. Eichenberger has been managing the musical theater for two years on behalf of operator Freddy Burger Management. Prior to that he was exhibition director of Muba. It's just a few paces from his old to his new employer – the musical theater is located just behind the Basel exhibition halls and, indeed, up until its conversion, used to be an exhibition hall itself.
As theater manager, Eichenberger also engages in networking with Basel's associations and acts as a type of concierge for the musical companies. A performer needs a good physiotherapist? The 120-strong "Lion King" crew need tram tickets? Eichenberger arranges all of this. The head office in Zurich takes charge of bookings and marketing.
"The biggest musical that Switzerland has ever seen"
With Cats, the next musical hit is now being staged in Basel. Disney The Lion King attracted more than 300,000 visitors last year, and even the press was euphoric. "The biggest musical that Switzerland has ever seen", is Eichenberger's opinion too. He's seen the show three times. And some of the ushers have even seen it a hundred times.
"Basel is safe, clean and has amazing cultural offerings"
A world hit in the provinces – thanks to Freddy Burger's contacts and the support of the City of Basel. "With The Lion King, we moved back into the international spotlight once again", says the theater boss. The feedback from the musical companies is excellent. "Safe, clean, good public transport and amazing cultural offerings", he reports. The guests are delighted to take advantage of these. And the children from The Lion King cast visited all 42 museums in the city. This even deserves the respect of certain inhabitants of the city of Basel.
Musicals: added value for the region
When shows such as "The Lion King" are running, this is not only beneficial for the image of the city and the theatre. A large number of businesses and facilities in the entire region benefit if the full musical cast – 120 people for seven months in the case of "The Lion King" – go out for a meal, make use of the cultural offerings and live in hotels or apartments. Added to this come the visitors who travel to Basel to see the show. "We generate huge added value", says Eichenberger.
Despite the many shows that he sees in the framework of his job, he is repeatedly attracted into the theater - even attending more than one performance of the same show. He saw the "Mamma Mia!" Abba adaptation a total of five times. "When the whole auditorium are on their feet for the encore, then I know why I work here."
The Casino Company is moving into the Theater as of August
A number of things will be changing at my workplace as of August, because a new sub-tenant is moving into the building. While the municipal casino at Barfüsserplatz is being renovated, the Casino company is renting the theater stage for eight months of the year - for a total of three years. As far as the Musical Theater is concerned, that means: a large number of orchestra performances, fewer musicals and only ones that run for one to two weeks – Stomp and West Side Story are already coming – plus day events. "For us, this is an opportunity to attract a completely new audience into the Theater", says Eichenberger.
All the information on Cats and other shows: www.musical.ch
Photo 1: Alessandro Pinna, Photo 2: MCH Group