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The Chinese version of Murder Ballad, a popular off-Broadway musical, will return to Shanghai at the end of this month. Murder Ballad is about a young woman named Sara who dates a bartender named Tom, but then breaks up with him for Michael, a quiet poetry student.

After getting married and having a daughter with Michael, Sara tires of her dull family life and finds herself longing for her former passionate days.

Tom and Sara secretly begin dating again, yet, at the same time, she feels guilty about her treacherous behavior. But it is too late, as the story ends in tragedy, as the title suggests.

Different from traditional musicals, there is no dialogue in Murder Ballad. The entire performance is composed of 42 pieces of rock and roll music.

The play's original version, created by Julia Jordan and ­Juliana Nash, premiered at Manhattan Theater Club's Stage II venue in New York City in 2012.

The play was adapted and introduced to other places such as the UK and Japan.

The new Chinese version, adapted by CDE Live, a local company focusing on location-based entertainment, optimized and tailored the cast, plot and immersive interactive experience according to Chinese tastes and standards.

Apart from Liu Lingfei and Zheng Yunlong, two Chinese musical actors, Li-tong Hsu, a Chinese-Dutch actress, will also join the cast. Born in Deventer, the Netherlands, Hsu started to learn music at eight years old.

She has been active on the European stage and played many classic musicals such as The King and I, Miss Saigon, Rent, Kinky Boots and The Frogs.

Stage musical actors must master multiple skills such as singing, dancing and acting while enduring the mounting pressures of nightly performances. But for Hsu, the most important skill for becoming a great musical actress is attitude.

"An actor can never stop learning. Keep taking classes with good teachers, watch as many shows as you can," Hsu told the Global Times.

A matter of time

Hsu said that, although she was born and raised in the Netherlands, she has been learning Putonghua and longing for more opportunities in China.

With her achievements, Hsu was invited to play Lucy Harris in the Chinese version of Broadway classic Jekyll & Hyde this September. Inspired by this opportunity, she then decided to star in more musicals in China.

However, considering the cultural differences and limited development of stage musicals in China, it has taken time for Hsu herself adapt to the local scene.

"West End and Broadway have a long history of musicals. Here in China, however, it is hard to find the right people for the cast, crew and production team, because it is a new industry," Hsu explained.

Nonetheless, Hsu believes the outlook for musicals in China looks promising.

"It is just a matter of time before it develops," she said, adding that she hopes that there will be more outstanding actors and production teams which would help facilitate different genres of musicals as well as more original Chinese works.

Budding industry

Tian Yuan, a producer with CDE Live, also holds an optimistic attitude toward the development of musicals in China, despite the fact that the stage musical industry here only started at the beginning of the new millennium.

China's stage musical market initially kicked off after Shanghai Grand Theatre began introducing classic Broadway musicals such as Les Misérables (2002), Cats (2003), The Sound of Music (2004) and The Phantom of the Opera (2005).

To develop the domestic industry, the theater proposed three steps at that time: introduce original musicals, create Chinese versions and then produce original Chinese pieces. Tian told the Global Times that this is exactly what she has been doing.

"It is widely accepted that, to boost the local industry, we need to stick with creating something original," she explained.

Tian believes that the growing success of original Broadway pieces and adapted Chinese versions in China will help open the market and attract local companies to invest and produce something new, so as to push the development of this new industry.

But Tian still keeps a clear mind about the shortcomings of the industry in China, saying that it requires more and well-educated talents. "The core element of show business is personnel," she said.

"Musicals are complicated projects. It is impossible to make something big at the very beginning," Tian said.

A rehearsal picture of the musical Photo: Courtesy of CDE Live

Tian Yuan Photo: Courtesy of CDE Live

Li-tong Hsu Photo: Courtesy of Li-tong Hsu