On 24 November 2018, a new stage Play - “My Silent Night” - debuted at the Felsenreitschule theatre in Salzburg. And theatre aficionados could barely contain their excitement: The new play brought a little bit of Broadway magic to Austria. Following the success of the acclaimed musical “The Sound of Music”, which had its Salzburg premiere in 2011, “Silent Night Story” could very well become the next global success.
A stage play with Hollywood glamour
A top-notch team from the USA has been signed up for the production of the play: The music will be composed by film composer John Debney, who made the soundtracks for large Hollywood productions like “Ice Age” and “Sin City” as well as “The Jungle Book” more recently. Debney has already received three Emmy Awards throughout his career and was even nominated for an Oscar for his work on “The Passion of the Christ” in 2015. The stage play was written by author, director and musician Hannah Friedman. The lyrics are from Michael Weiner, Alan Zachary and Siedah Garrett, who closely worked with Michael Jackson in former times and wrote the lyrics for one of his biggest hits „Man in the Mirror“. Andreas Gergen, responsible for successful productions like “The Sound of Music” or “Monty Python’s Spamalot”, brought the play onto the stage of the Felsenreitschule theatre.
In the tradition of “The Sound of Music”
The play is part of the “musical play” genre: This incarnation of the American musical theatre tradition originates in the 1920s and is marked by a serious plot set against a historical backdrop with references to local occurrences. The story, singing, dancing and music were all interconnected: “The Sound of Music”, based on the true story of the Trapp Family from Salzburg, is a prime example of the genre. The contributors to the production included the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, a large ensemble of soloists led by musical star Milica Jovanovic and the choir and ballet ensemble of the Salzburg State Theatre. The male leading role was performed by Dominik Hees. Further actors were Bettina Mönch, Pavel Fieber, Sascha Oskar Weis and Marco Dott.
What’s “Silent Night Story” about?
The musical play “My Silent Night” is a moving and quite contemporary Christmas tale: It tells the story of eight individuals and their own unique Christmas experiences. Among them are Justin, who travels from America to Austria in his pursuit of happiness, and Elisabeth, who lives and works in Salzburg. The two first met many years ago as exchange students and now get to see each other again. At the same time, the song “Silent Night” and a common vision play a surprising and unifying role.
“My Silent Night” was the title of the new play commissioned by Carl Philip von Maldeghem, Director of the Salzburg State Theatre, on the occasion of the 200-year anniversary of the Christmas song “Silent Night”. The project was initiated by Leo Bauernberger, General Manager of the SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH. From November – December 2018, the piece brought both Hollywood glam as well as Broadway flair to Salzburg: A top-notch creative team from the USA came on board to help craft the music, the script and the song lyrics. The team included the Oscar and Emmy-nominated film composer John Debney from Los Angeles, scriptwriter and musician Hannah Friedman from New York, as well as songwriter Siedah Garret, who had worked closely with Michael Jackson. The piece was developed based on an idea by Richard Kraft.
A contemporary piece with highly relevant themes
“My Silent Night” engaged with themes and ideas that have very much to do with “Silent Night”, the most famous Christmas song in the world. However, it didn’t actually tell the story of its creation. This contemporary Christmas tale took place in the 21st century with modern-day crises, challenges and problems facing its protagonists. People who must flee their homes — they exist today as they did during the days of the Napoleonic Wars. The yearning for fraternity, community and solidarity has remained the same across the centuries. People on the margins of society — another theme that will never lose its importance. Just like Joseph Mohr once stood at the margins of society as a child born out of wedlock, many homeless people, transsexuals or dissenting thinkers are discriminated against today. Visionaries, who dare to try out new things — today, they are needed just as much as then!
Finding one’s lucky star
What is happiness? How do we find it? Are our dreams worth it? What if we are wasting our talents? The musical play “My Silent Night” revolved around such very personal questions. They are the kinds of questions that any person faces in the modern 21st-century. While there are still people who fear for their very lives, others are concerned with the meaning of life. Both struggles are valid and urgent.
Music as foundation
There was plenty of singing and dancing in “My Silent Night”, as is to be expected of an authentic musical play in the vein of “The Sound of Music”. Just like the song “Silent Night” had made its way across the Atlantic to the New World in 1839, protagonist Justin embarked on a journey from America to Salzburg: It’s a quite personal journey to the past and to a place that Held much promise for him. He wanted to find himself, his vocation. And maybe even love.
Music is the foundation for all of this. In the same way that it was an important constant in the lives of Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, Justin slowly but surely begins to uncover his own talents.
A glamorous story
The Play was staged elaborately and was as glamorous as it was emotional: The Salzburg State Theatre’s ensemble for “My Silent Night” included around 100 collaborators. Orchestra duties are performed by the renowned Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg. The children that were casted in the piece play a special role as well, as is tradition in Salzburg. They came together to form a colourful bunch and became a band that appears to reflect society’s diversity. Songwriter Siedah Garret (“I just can’t stop loving you”) wrote a rap for every single part.
The premiere took place on 24 November 2018 at the Felsenreitschule Theatre in Salzburg.
A production by the Salzburg State Theatre, in German with English supertitles.
Richard Kraft (idea)
Andreas Gergen (directing/staging)
John Debney (music)
Hannah Friedman (script)
Siedah Garret, Michael Weiner, Alan Zachary (lyrics)
Rutz and Johannes Deny (translation)
Robin Davis (music director)
Regina Schill (costumes)
Kim Duddy (choreography)
fettFilm (stage and video craft)
Milica Jovanovic (“Elisabeth”)
Dominik Hees (“Justin”)
Bettina Mönch (“Baroness”)
Pavel Fieber (“Grandfather Kurt”)
Additional roles portrayed by: Sascha Oskar Weis, Marco Dott, and many more
Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg
Additional Information at www.salzburger-landestheater.at
Music as a tool for bringing people together
In conversation with Hannah Friedman, scriptwriter of the play “My Silent Night”
Hannah, in 2017 you came to Salzburg for the first time in order to research the history of the song “Silent Night”. What did you find?
I had never been to either or Salzburg or Austria before, although I have European roots. My ancestors were originally from Hungary, Romania, Germany and Russia. It was a very exciting journey and I love the amazing energy here in Salzburg. There’s a creative and international atmosphere here — I love it!
Did you know that the song originated in Salzburg?
No, I wasn’t aware of that at all. I must admit that I had never even thought about where it may have come from. It was just something that you would sing in school. And although I am Jewish, and my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I had known the song since childhood. I always liked it a lot, especially when my grandmother would sing it. It was just a very traditional Christmas song for me.
What was it like for you to investigate the song’s creation story in more depth?
Very exciting — Joseph Mohr’s and Franz Xaver Gruber’s story fascinated me especially. Having been born out of wedlock, Joseph Mohr was an outsider as a child, but also somebody who wouldn’t let others break him: He had a vision and was a revolutionary in his own way. He used music to express his feelings, just like Franz Xaver Gruber. For me, this gives the song a very wide-reaching and universal function. Its message is to never lose hope.
The play is very contemporary, but you decided to approach themes that were already relevant 200 years ago.
Yes, because although much has changed, much has remained the same. One issue that moved me a lot is the refugee crisis in Europe. The new play is a product of its time, but the themes of war and flight were already relevant 200 years ago, they exist today and, unfortunately, they will likely persist in the future. During difficult times, we long for solidarity. We need people who have a vision and must make sure that we remain open to new ideas, rather than closing ourselves off from the world.
What is it like to write a play about a piece of Austrian cultural heritage as an American?
It is definitely an outsider’s perspective on a country filled with so much history and beauty. I don’t want to lecture the Austrians about their own traditions, I couldn’t even do it if I wanted to. But there are universal themes that make sense everywhere. Like the tension between tradition and innovation. Or the power of dreams.
How does a script like this come into being?
We came here in spring 2017 to do research, by October I had finished writing the first part. Earlier this year, we had the first reading in Hollywood, where Andreas Gergen and Carl Philip von Maldeghem were also present. As of right now, everything is still a work in progress. Now that we’ve seen the first results of the rehearsal phase in May, I will apply a few changes and implement requested revisions.
In the best-case scenario, what effect do you want “My Silent Night” to have on the audience?
Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr were aware of the unifying power of music. Personally, I would be very glad if people felt joyful after seeing the play. Joyful about the fact that they are part of a bigger community — a family or simply as part of the audience. The piece is intended to be a bit like a big family dinner, where everyone comes together. The audience will have spent time together, laughed together and experienced something together, experienced emotional unity to then ultimately return to their own worlds.
You are Jewish yourself and don’t celebrate Christmas: Does the holiday still have meaning for you?
One part of our family celebrates Christmas and we always celebrate along. And it’s impossible to get away from Christmas in New York, anyway. I like the festive period very much. I bake cookies and on Christmas we have a stew and salmon. We also sing songs, though I must admit that my personal favourite is ‘White Christmas’.
Thank you for the talk!
Dates and Tickets
Language: Performance in German, English surtitles
REVIEW – DATES
Sat 24/11/2018 7:00 p.m. world-premiere
Thu 29/11/2018 8:00 p.m.
Sat 01/12/2018 7:00 p.m.
Tue 04/12/2018 8:00 p.m.
Thu 06/12/2018 8:00 p.m.
Fri 07/12/2018 8:00 p.m.
Sun 09/12/2018 3:00 p.m.
Wed 12/12/2018 8:00 p.m.
Thu 13/12/2018 8:00 p.m.
Sat 15/12/2018 7:00 p.m.
Sun 16/12/2018 3:00 p.m.
Tue 18/12/2018 8:00 p.m.
Salzburg State Theatre
T +43 662 87 15 12 222