Why a Musical Play about Thea von Harbou?

Nov. 1, 2016

Let us answer in reverse order: First, why Thea von Harbou? Second, why a play about her? Third, why a musical play?


1. Why Thea von Harbou? 

She was an extraordinary woman whose life and achievements are not well known today, particularly outside of Germany. Actor, author, film director, screenplay writer, etc., she did a lot.


Why are her achievements not well known today? Because between 1933 and 1945, she worked in the German film industry while the Nazis were in power, and in 1940 or 41, she did what she felt she had to do and joined the Nazi party. As a result, film historians for the last fifty years or so have largely dismissed her work wrongly as Nazi propaganda. Today, many of her films from that period have become accessible via YouTube and other sources, and we can see for ourselves that accusation is completely false.
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2. Why a play?

Her life story begs to be a play because it follows a Shakespearean arc.


At the beginning, she’s a successful writer married to actor Rudolph Klein-Rogge.  She then meets charismatic director Fritz Lang in 1919. He’s married, too, but it’s Weimar Germany, so who cares? She and Fritz then begin a sizzling personal and professional affair which produces some great films—and the suicide of Lang’s first wife. Then, Fritz and Thea marry, but their personal relationship quickly tanks because of Lang’s multiple infidelities.














Then, at the personal and professional lowpoint of her life, she meets the first real love of her life: a grad student from India, seventeen years her junior. After discovering her and the grad student in bed, Lang then divorces her for being unfaithful to him—talk about your dramatic irony!
Meanwhile, the Nazis have taken over Germany. Lang leaves Berlin for Hollywood, but Thea von Harbou is made of sterner stuff. She and the Indian secretly marry in Berlin, but in time, the Nazi prohibition of miscegenation threatens them, so to protect him, she is forced to end the relationship in 1938 and send him back to India for his own protection. And all this time, she somehow continues to pursue her career as a prolific screenwriter working within the strictures of Nazi censorship.

After the war, she is interned in a British camp, where she is thoroughly “de-Nazified,” but she is temporarily barred from working in the resurrected German film industry, so in her late fifties, she volunteers to become one of the Trümmerfrauen, the women who helped to clean up the war rubble in the German cities. This bare-handed, stoop labor accelerates the decline of her health, but she does the work, anyway. Talk about a survivor!














In the last years of her life, she is allowed return to the industry that she helped to create, and at age sixty-five, she is finally about to receive a small portion of the recognition that she has earned when a tragic accident ends her life.

It’s a story that demands the immediacy and the reality of live theatre. And a story with that scope can only be told effectively on stage.

3. Third, why a musical?

That’s easy. It’s a story about passion and loss and surviving and pursuing dreams against impossible odds—all the themes of the great musical plays. Only a musical play can communicate these emotions fully and unreservedly.

That’s why a musical play about Thea von Harbou.

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The Trümmerfrauen: The women who helped clean up the war rubble.
At the height of their fame, Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou enjoy an evening at home in their swanky Berlin apartment.

The "moon" is the German film industry, which enjoyed a strangely protected status through the Second World War and was generally immune to changing economic and political conditions—at least, for anyone who didn't happen to be Jewish. 

Act One

1919, at the dawn of the anything-goes Weimar era, Thea von Harbou is in her early thirties, married to actor Rudolph Klein-Rogge and an established writer, but an offer to adapt one of her stories for the movies leads her to a chance meeting with the charismatic director Fritz Lang, with whom she begins a passionate affair while writing screenplays for him. Their collaborations are great successes, and eventually they marry. However, Lang's repeated affairs wtih his films' leading ladies pushes Thea away and leads her into an affair with Ayi Tendulkar, a student from India and her junior by nineteen years. The first act ends in 1933 as the election of Hitler brings the Weimar era crashing to a close and a flood of artists and intellectuals--including Fritz lang--abandon their country en masse. But Thea von Harbou is determined not to surrender the motion picture industry to the Nazis--she will stay!
 Act Two

Now a leader among German screenwriters, Thea von Harbou struggles to keep the "moon" in orbit, resisting censorship and prejudice while simultaneously protecting Jewish friends and aiding her Indian lover's fellow students. When the Nazis question her marriage to Ayi Tendulkar, she realizes that she is no longer on the "moon," and she sacrifices her love to send him back to India for his own safety. At great personal cost, she also joins the Nazi party to aid the cause of Indian independence from British rule. When the war ends, she is interned in a British oncentration camp but eventually cleared of any war crimes. Blacklisted from the film industry, she becomes one of the the Trümmerfrauen, the women who used their bare hands to clear away the war rubble to rebuild her country. Shortly before her death, she returns to a film industry that honors her as a German film pioneer.