A brave enterprise

A brave enterprise

If you browse through books at airport stores in China, or sample the hottest Web postings, you won't miss the biggest trend in the Middle Kingdom: tips on making it big by making tons of money.

Chinese even coined a word for it, "successology", a faux science which some are slavishly loyal to and others thumb their noses at. In China, the notion of success, especially as conventionally defined, has become both a shot in the arm and excess baggage.

One musical comedy has turned it into a collective mirror for boisterous laughter, and maybe, a pause for reflection.

It is a wonder that nobody thought of licensing How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying for the Chinese stage-until now, that is. Yang Jiamin, born in 1987, wants success badly.

But the success she has in mind is not necessarily measured in salaries or perks. She left the easy money from high finance for the unpredictable world of musicals because her dream is to present the best musical works to Chinese theatergoers.

Judging from audience reception, she is on her way to realise that. How to Succeed is her third production in less than three years. And after starting on Jan 9, it'll run in Beijing's Century Theater for a month and then tour Shanghai in May, a very auspicious start by Chinese standards.

The American original debuted on Broadway in 1961, and has since accumulated 1,417 performances, most recently starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame.

Yang caught one of the 2012 shows and she instantly knew it would click with Chinese audiences. Now, she has planned a run of more than 100 performances with a 20 million yuan (S$4.3 million) budget.

That's a big splash in China.

An impossible dream?

As a student of English language and literature at Peking University, Yang had two passions: Taking an interest in the appreciation of musicals, learning of classics like Show Boat and Oklahoma through arts courses, and starting her own business. She did not realise the two could be combined when she graduated in 2009.

She stepped into the roller coaster world of finance in the United States and Japan, but she was invariably lured to the Great White Way or its equivalent in Japan, where a company called Four Seasons produced localized versions of Western musicals.

With no professional expertise, Yang launched her musical production company Seven Ages Production in Beijing at the end of 2011.

Half a year later, Man of la Mancha opened in Beijing. Not a Chinese version though, but in its English original and directed by Joseph Graves, who was her professor sowing the seeds of the wonder of the musical in Yang. He had directed the show on Broadway.

The repertory was a difficult choice for Yang because Chinese were not familiar with it, except the original novel.

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