Musical parody about Karl Marx set in Highgate Cemetery comes home

Ensemble performing Comeback! Karl Marx the Musical. Picture: Peter Awtukowitsch

Ensemble performing Comeback! Karl Marx the Musical. Picture: Peter Awtukowitsch - Credit: Archant

A satirical rock musical about Karl Marx set in Highgate Cemetery, will be coming home when it opens Upstairs at the Gatehouse pub.

Already a hit in Germany, Comeback! The Karl Marx Musical is co-authored by a German rock star and radio presenter, and plays a stone’s throw from the iconic philosopher’s grave.

The “musical parody” features a down-and-out tramp sleeping rough behind Marx’s memorial in Highgate Cemetery, who falls in love with a banker’s daughter.

Tobias Kunzel, guitarist with ‘90s band Die Prinzen, who have sold six million albums, said the musical was conceived over coffee in Starbucks Camden Town.

“I saw the wall with paintings of all the people who used to live in Camden and there was a picture of Marx,” says the 51-year-old.

“I thought a musical about him is so strange, I have to do it.”

Kunzel drafted in friends Maximilian Reeg and Steffen Lukas, a German DJ famed for on air pranks, to help write the songs and dialogue.

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“They weren’t interested in musicals at all but I didn’t ask I told them they were doing it.”

Kunzel who lives between Kentish Town and his native Leipzig understands the cultural differences between the countries.

“It’s a comedy about the financial crisis. Having a sense of humour about Marx is easier in the UK but more difficult in Germany where he is taken very seriously. In English, people see it and start smiling, but the meaning is different because of the history of East Germany where I come from. He was the most important person. His philosophy was used by the Communists. It’s difficult to explain to people in Germany.”

The show opens with a banker throwing a huge party to celebrate his profits – just as the markets implode. A magician tells him Marx was the prophet of the crisis and caused the crash, so he goes to his grave to ask his spirit to deny his beliefs.

When unemployed musician Mark S, who is sleeping behind the tomb, wakes up in the middle of their séance, he’s mistaken for Marx himself.

“They take him to the bank and of course there’s a love scene between the singer and the bank manager’s daughter,” adds Kunzel.

With a rock and brass score played partly live and partly pre-recorded, Comeback! nods to playwright Bertolt Brecht as well as paying homage to 70s rock operas. Kunzel is a former member of Leipzig’s St Thomas Boys Choir for which JS Bach wrote his big works including The St Matthew Passion.

“When I was nine I came across Jesus Christ Superstar heard St Matthew’s Passion with rock music. I was so impressed and excited, it really caught me.” While some of the musical’s jokes didn’t work in English, they hired a translator to ensure it is still funny: “Musicals should make you laugh and cry. You should take some wise things with you but most importantly it should be fun and entertaining,” says Kunzel.

“We did it in Germany first with a huge cast but it belongs to London and to Highgate. It takes the spirit of the British musicals and mixes it with a very German sense of humour – there must be a German sense of humour. I am pretty sure we have found it.”

Comeback! runs Upstairs at the Gatehouse May 3-14.