Karlín Music Theatre
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The Karlín theatre was built by Eduard Tichý, a Prague entrepreneur, who was inspired by a popular type of vaudeville theatre during its journeys around Western Europe. The building, with a neo-Renaissance frontage was designed by the architect Otto Ehlen. Inside, there was a ring in front of the stage and the auditorium was equipped with tables for two thousand consuming spectators.
The theatre started operation with a performance by the circus belonging to Belgian owner Eduard Wulff on 27 August 1881. The owner of the Th éâtre Variété, as the name of the Karlín theatre was then, soon made a fortune from his entertainment activity and was able to carry out additional adaptations aiming at more theatrical functions. First, he liquidated the ring and enlarged the stage. As early as the eighteen-eighties musical comedies started to appear on the stage but variety programmes still prevailed. A fundamental adaptation of the interior was carried out by Tichý’s sons only in 1897, when the auditorium was richly decorated by the architect Bedřich Ohmann. At that time a historical curtain was supplied from Vienna that decorates the theatre even now. The Tichýs owned the Karlín building for 39 years but they fell into debt during the Second World War and sold the building to several parties.
In the first half of the 20th century, the theatre front still bore a sign reading “Variété” and indeed honoured this word. The building also used to be rented to tours of other theatres, e.g. the Slovak National Theatre, under the management of the conductor Oskar Nedbal, or for musical shows, most often produced by Karel Hašler. Musical comedies gradually found their way to the stage and the table arrangement was replaced with theatre seats in the thirties. A noted period started in 1939, when the Prozatímní Theatre dramatic ensemble (and partly also the opera and the ballet) moved to Karlín from the Stavovské Theatre as this building had been confiscated by the Germans. At that occasion, the interior was renovated and a sound panel, which Karlín Music Theatre was in use up to the beginning of the nineties, was installed above the stage. The Vinohrady Theatre troupe played here under the name of Městská divadla pražská for a short time in 1944.
After 1945 the building became a cooperative and later, state property; since 1961 it has been owned by the municipality. Operettas, dramas with songs, ballets and later musicals started to be produced here. A permanent ensemble, workshops and administrative department were established. The theatre successively changed its name from the Opereta v Karlíně to the Hudební divadlo Karlín, borne by the theatre since 1961.
The post-war history of the Karlín theatre is quite colourful. The permanent music theatre thus established also hosted foreign ensembles, e.g. the French theatre of Jean Vilar with the famous Gérard Philipe or the American musical Porgy and Bess. World-famous musicals (Hello, Dolly!, My Fair Lady) found their way to its stage at the end of the fifties and during the sixties, the end of the seventies saw the return of plays by Voskovec and Werich (The Golem, Balada z hadrů [Ballad of Rags]). Several original titles premiered here, too – e.g. Gentlemani (Gentlemen) by B. Ondráček; Zvonokosy (Clochemerle) by J. Brabec; the swing musicals Zasněžená romance (according to the Sun Valley Serenade) and Sny z Nového Yorku (Dreams of New York) by G. Oplustil. From the beginning of the sixties, in addition to the symphony orchestra the theatre regularly presented the Karel Vlach Orchestra. The Karlín stage witnessed the glittering careers of music theatre stars such as Oldřich Nový, Nelly Gaierová, Jára Pospíšil, Laďka Kozderková, Věra Macků, Karel Fiala and many others.
The Karlín Theatre administratively included the Music Theatre in Nusle – Fidlovačka (from 1963 until it ended in 1978) and the Semafor Theatre (from 1981 to 1990; later, in 1995, the Semafor even moved to the Karlín Theatre physically – to the basement – it played here until the fl ood in 2002). Several times the building was restructured, renovated and expanded even to its depths. Even so, in the nineties it was faced with total renovation, especially regarding the stage, which was unable to meet the modern requirements of spectacular musicals (for example, underneath the fl oor there were still the remnants of animal cages from the circus times). The building was seriously damaged by the 2002 Vltava fl ood and the theatre had to move to substitute premises in the Convention Centre at Vyšehrad for a period of three seasons.
Since 2003 the theatre has been managed by Egon Kulhánek, producer of the most successful Czech musical, Dracula, which was attended by more than 1,250,000 people. Other members of management are: Pavel Polák, Art Director and the first Czech Mario from the legendary Les Misérables, and Jiří Blažek, Deputy Director of Operations. Adam Novák, a translator, lyricist and former producer of musicals, is the literary manager. Recent premieres: the vintage musical West Side Story, Noc na Karlštejně (Night at Karlštejn) by Svoboda and Podskalský and the Broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde, the premiere of which was attended by the authors, Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse. The Czech version of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus returned to the stage.
The renovated theatre building was ceremonially opened with the most successful title in the history of Broadway – The Producers – in the presence of Lord Mayor Pavel Bém on 12 Oct. 2006. It was followed by the premiere of the Czech cult musical Limonádový Joe (Lemonade Joe) with the legendary Karel Fiala as Papa Kolaloka, in the spring of 2007; Čardášová princezna (The Gipsy Princess) by Emmerich Kálmán with Czech operetta legends Pavla Břínková and Jan Ježek returned to the Karlín Music Theatre in September 2007.