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Requiem for theatre victims

Moscow, Nov. 10: The lights in the hall dimmed, and the musicians walked in, taking their seats.

Eight music stands stood empty to honour their dead colleagues. The actors followed and, without a word of introduction, began to sing. The audience rose to its feet in respect.

Two weeks to the day after the terrorist siege of a theatre ended with a daring, deadly rescue by commandos, the cast of Nord Ost returned to a new stage last night for the first of two long-planned performances that had originally been meant as a promotional celebration of the show’s role in bringing Broadway-style musicals to Moscow.

Instead, last night’s performance — at the State Central Concert Hall inside the Rossiya Hotel beside a snowy Kremlin and Red Square — became a memorial, a fund-raiser and an emotional declaration of the resilience of popular culture in the wake of tragedy and loss.

And so, after enduring the trauma of 57 hours held hostage, the cast performed again, singing songs not only from Nord Ost but also rousing Russian renditions of those from Broadway productions like Oliver, Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King.

“As people in extreme professions like the military say, if it is painful, it means you are alive,” said Aleksandr Y. Tsekalo, the executive producer. “We want to show we are alive, though it is painful. Nord Ost is alive. Maybe it is wounded. Maybe it is limping. But it is alive.”

The hostage crisis made Nord Ost, German for “Northeast”, famous around the world, but not in a way anyone would have wanted.

Seventeen of 76 cast members — the eight musicians, two child actors and seven stage hands — died in the rescue, while most of the rest were hospitalised from the effects of the narcotic gas used to subdue the Chechen guerrillas who had taken them hostage. Many of the sets and costumes were destroyed.

For all the show-must-go-on sentiment, however, the toll of the siege coursed like a spectre through last night’s performances. The director, Georgi L. Vasilyev, spoke emotionally as he introduced each song, his voice weak at moments.

Leonid M. Roshal, a prominent pediatrician who negotiated the release of several children during the siege, appeared on stage and apologised that he had not succeeded in freeing them all. Photographs of two young actors killed during the raid — Arseny Kurilenko, 13, and Kristina Kurbatova, 14 — flashed on a screen as a young actress sang “Castle on a Cloud” from Les Miserables.

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