Monkey: Journey to the West is a stage adaptation of the 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng'en. It was conceived and created by the Chinese actor and director Chen Shi-zheng, together with the British musician Damon Albarn and British artist Jamie Hewlett (Both from Gorillaz). However, the original idea came from Jean-Luc Choplin, head of the Chatelet Theatre in Paris.
The production received its world premiere as the opening show of the inaugural Manchester International Festival, on June 28, 2007 at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, where it ran until July 7. It was subsequently staged at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris between September 26 and October 13 2007. The production received its U.S. premiere at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC in May 2008. A further run was planned for the Berlin Staatsoper in July 2008, but instead took place at the London Royal Opera House. The show is currently running at the O2 arena in London, until January 4th 2009.
Billed as a "circus opera", the show is Hewlett and Albarn's first major collaboration since Gorillaz. Albarn composed the musical score while Hewlett designed the visual concept, set and costumes. The adaptation for stage has been written by Shi-zheng, who also directs the production. Dramaturgy is by David Greenspan. The show features Chinese singers and 70 Chinese acrobats and martial artists. The orchestra put together for the production includes members of the UK Chinese Music Ensemble (led by Cheng Yu), Demon Strings and Sense of Sound.
In addition to the production, the Manchester International Festival also ran a programme of educational workshops in local schools, in partnership with the Chinese Arts Centre. In the programme, local children were introduced to the tale of Journey to the West, and learnt about various aspects of Chinese culture, music and dance, including mask-making, puppet-making, Tai Chi and Kung Fu.
Hewlett and Albarn included characters from Monkey: Journey to the West in an animation sequence titled "Journey to the East." The BBC used the sequence to introduce coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in Beijing.
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