Words and Music by
“Gentlemen, do I have your full attention?”
For three months in 1947, notorious Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl is locked up in a French mental institution. Addled by electroshock therapy, Riefenstahl attempts to defend her life and her choices, weaving a tale spanning from her childhood to the end of the war. With the help of a band of young American soldiers, who assume the roles of some of the most important men in her life, including Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler, she constructs an elaborate reality all her own—part Brechtian cabaret confessional, part Tin Pan Alley fugue state—that challenges the very definition of ‘truth’ itself.
“A story that needs to be told…”
Leni Riefenstahl is on of the most infamous filmmakers of the 20th Century. She was fiercely innovative and pioneering, while furthering the Nazi propaganda machine. Growing up in Berlin, Riefenstahl took to dancing at an early age. This gave way to her early acting appearances in five films during the late 1920s. Mesmerised by the expressive potential of the cinemagraphic medium, she began directing films, starting with Das Blau Licht in 1932. Her work caught the attention of the Nazi Party and, eventually, Adolf Hitler, as she began directing the propaganda films for which she is most recognized.
While Riefenstahl is widely regarded as being complicit in the Nazi Party propaganda machine, following World War II, she vehemently maintained her innocence. In her later years, she pursued still photography and published books of her photographic studies of the Nuba people of Sudan, as well as underwater life.
An original musical by Christie Baugher, Leni Riefenstahl is Going to Tell You the Truth is the hallucinatory retelling of her own story by the title character, Hitler’s “it girl” propaganda filmmaker, but also arguably the most technically talented female filmmaker of the twentieth century. Smacking of Brechtian distancing techniques, Leni and her US Army back-up singers stage her rise to prominence—and lead the audience to wonder: was she complicit in the deaths of six million Jews in the process of creating her art.
Using all of the tools of a musical as her canvas, Leni Riefenstahl, a master showman, puts on a show herself, enlisting her interrogators to assist her in weaving and manipulating her narrative as she unapologetically presents the story of her life, her improbable rise to fame, and her association with a cadre of sheer, modern evil. The production relies on original footage from Leni Riefenstahl’s films, and it also incorporates the use of live cameras, live video feeds, and live editing to manipulate the audience’s point-of-view in a way that only a master propagandist could.
Drawing on the creative team’s experience designing interactive and media-rich live experiences, the musical unfolds within a scenographic design that is ever-changing. The space come alive with Riefenstahl’s unique cinematic style. The imagery reveals the historical events she framed and helped shape, as well as, at times, the self-assured and self-delusional mind as she’s confronted with the facts and moral implications of her life.
Standing on the shoulders of Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera and Kander, Ebb, and Masteroff’s Cabaret, this play uses the musical form to tackle a horrible and complex story, leaving the audience in a state of cognitive dissonance. With a cast of five and an eight-piece musical ensemble, the piece is inseparably close and intimate with its audience.
The team developing the premiere production of Leni Riefenstahl is Going to Tell You the Truth is necessarily as unconventional and innovative as the musical itself.
- Christie Baugher is a phenomenally talented writer based in New York City. A MFA graduate of NYU’s Tisch school, Christie’s musicals reveal the complex and dynamic lives of under-exposed figures in history and the arts.
- Anne Kelly is an experienced theme park and tech industry producer guiding the production.
- Music Director Ryan Kerr
- Audio and video engineer Nathan McWilliams, formerly of Walt Disney Imagineering, is developing the orchestral world and sound design.
- Hollywood filmmaker Katie Moeller lends her cinematic eye to the creation and recreation of Riefenstahl’s iconic and infamous works, as they appear and transform the silver screen and stage.
- Peter Torpey, a media experience artist and founder of The nth Art, brings his creative and technical expertise in integrating film, media, and interaction onstage.
- Elly Nattinger, who is an engineer working for Google’s VR team, but also has extensive experience in opera and directing movement and choreography.