The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Musical tribute to mystery and glory of Garbo

Stockholm, Sept. 17 (Reuters): What would Greta Garbo, Hollywood’s mystery woman who “wanted to be alone”, think of an entire musical telling the story of her life in flashy Broadway style.

Garbo The Musical will open in Stockholm, in Garbo’s native Sweden, on September 18, and the international team that has put the show together hope it will find audiences on Broadway, in London and other foreign centres.

Hunger for new musicals is huge, and the producers expect the saga of the enigmatic screen goddess who spent more of her life in seclusion than making films will lure people decades after Garbo’s career ended.

“It’s this mystery and glory around her that appeals to people around the world,” said producer Mikael Hellqvist.

Garbo, born Greta Gustafson in Stockholm in 1905, moved to Hollywood at the age of 20 and rose to instant recognition, becoming one of the greatest screen actresses of the 1930s and early 40s.

The icy beauty made 10 silent and 14 sound films, including Anna Karenina and Ninotchka.

In the 1932 movie Grand Hotel, she uttered her famous line: “I want to be alone” — a comment which later came to symbolise her attitude to the outside world, especially the press.

Garbo stunned Hollywood in 1941 when she turned her back on the film business at the height of her career and moved to New York where she lived a solitary existence for almost 50 years.

Garbo loved acting but shunned media attention. After her retirement she never went out without wearing dark glasses, never wrote an autobiography and gave only a handful of interviews.

“She wanted to do her work, but she wasn’t hungry for the attention she got,” said Gunilla Backman, who stars as Garbo in the musical.

“I think that’s quite interesting today when everybody wants to be famous.”

Garbo died in 1990, with family members at her bedside. Her ashes were buried in Sweden in 1999 after a nine-year tussle about the most suitable resting place for the actress who said in her last years that she missed her native country.

The musical, which tracks Garbo’s life from her modest youth through the glamorous Hollywood years to the late 1980s in New York, is a mixture of musical styles ranging from swing and ragtime variations to more contemporary rock.

Michael Reed, who has composed the score with Jim Steinman — known also for the text of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind — said they had tried to fill it with as much colour as possible.

“We tried to find the spirit of the woman who was an extremely private person,” he said.“Things seemed to happen to her. She was swept along, met all these people in Hollywood, and became really disillusioned with it.”

Producer Hellqvist said he hoped Garbo would run in Stockholm for a year and then open in the southern Swedish cities of Gothenburg and Malmo.

He said the musical could move abroad in Spring 2004, joining a series of successful Swedish music exports.

“Everybody is interested in new musicals,” Hellqvist said. “Now there are mostly reproductions of old musicals, but this one is brand new.”

Backman said she would be thrilled to star as Garbo even outside Sweden.

To study her role, she has read intensively about Garbo and talked to her relatives.

“I was deeply touched by her,” Backman said.

“She was so young when she came to Hollywood, and she became famous very quickly.”

Garbo, who never won an Academy Award during her acting career despite nominations for four films, was one of the first women to go on strike for better pay and play the roles she really wanted.

She was awarded a special Oscar “for her unforgettable screen performances” in 1954, but did not attend the ceremony.

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