Apollonia—an "environmental theatre"
Imagine sitting inches away from the actors, indulging yourself in melodious music, and `jazzing up with the show for a full ninety minutes…
Musical “Apollonia” introduced the idea of stories within the stories, and the stories are alternately arranged. One main story line is the relationship between Richard, Steve and Oscar. Oscar and Richard run a bar, which is going to be shut down by the Mafia. Steve—a member of the Mafia—ran into the bar and asked Richard and Oscar to put together a show to celebrate the success of the head of the Mafia. The second storyline is the story between Sonnyboy, Chichi and Botti, three children of the legendary Mafia head Luciano Bochetti, which talks about how Sonnyboy-- the adopted child, fights his way back to the head of the Mafia.
One of the innovative elements of the musical is the setting, and the fact of it being an “environmental theatre”, which creates an intimate atmosphere between the audience and the actor. The theatre was decorated as a bar, holding around a hundred people, and the stage appeared as a large bar table; the audiences sat around the “bar table”, as if they were
actually in a bar and they may put their beverages on the stage. The intimacy between the audience and the play enables interactions to occur and gives the feeling of immersion. The creative setting as well as the successful local adaptation of the play, such as adding in Chinese slangs, lead to its popularity among Chinese audiences.
The comparatively small setting of the theatre was considered a challenge for the actors, “Any small mistake will be enlarged under this kind of small theatre, since the audience are so close. It’s considered very challenging, but surprisingly this sort of intimate relationship relaxed me. Unlike the big theatre where we have to make every movement so big, we can perform in a casual way,” says Qisheng Ye, who performed Steve in “Apollonia”, “...And the funny thing about Apollonia is, that every round is different, there will always be elements of improvisation in it.”
Besides the hilarious plots,“Apollonia” is also well-known for its original songs and catchy lyrics. Throughout the time span of an hour and a half, there are altogether ten songs in the performance, with the performers alternating their voices and acts along the switching of their characters. The Drag elements and distinct characteristic symbols such as stuttering also add to the comedic effect of the musical.
“Apollonia” has blown up ever since its first performance back in August 2020, and up until today, the tickets still sold out in two minutes after their release, a sign for its unparalleled popularity among Chinese audiences. The frenzy over musicals in China started after the world tour of “Cats” and “Notre Dame” showed in Shanghai and Beijing. Afterwards, foreign musicals were introduced to the market by translating them into Chinese to make them more accessible to local audiences: musicals such as “Rock of Age”, “Thrill me”, “Murder Ballad” and so on were put into the Chinese version on the stage. Most of the translated plays are either from Broadway or Korea, such as “Apollonia”, “Flowers for Algernon” and “the Fiction”. Besides foreign introduction, there are also musicals originally produced by Chinese playwrights, for example, the “Journey Under the Midnight Sun '' transformed from the mystery novel written by Keigo Higashino, and “Next to Normal”, depicting the midlife crisis of a housewife.
As musicals become increasingly popular among Chinese and grow in size, a concerning issue facing female musical actors has begun to surface—the monotony of roles and the limited positions available for females. Current musicals are largely male-dominated and male-led, so females face considerable competition for a handful of roles; besides, they often find themselves stuck in either performing innocent, young girls who serve as secondary characters in love lines, or neurotic middle-aged women who serve villainous roles, lacking diversity and versatility. These all pose severe gender stereotypes and are extremely wasteful of the talents of Chinese female actors.