Janek Ledecký is one of the most popular pop stars in the Czech Republic. He first caught the attention of audiences as the front man of the rock band Žentour. They released their first album, titled Žentour 001, in 1987.
In 1992 he started to play and sing solo. His first solo album, Na ptáky jsme krátký (We're no Match for the Birds) was so successful that he became a real show-biz megastar. His success was confirmed by many prestigious awards.
Janek’s second album, Právě teď (Right Now) appeared in 1993, while he was performing the main role in the musical Pěna dní (Foam of Days) at the ABC Theatre in Prague. In May 1994 this album went gold and in the autumn of the same year, his third live album was released. That album also went gold, as did the concert video. The high point of 1994 was the last concert of his tour, when he played to a full house at Lucerna (Prague’s most prestigious concert hall; a full house at Lucerna is confirmation of the quality and popularity of a singer or band). With producer Ivan Král (Patti Smith Group, Iggy Pop) he finished the album Některý věci jsou jenom jednou (Some Things Happen Only Once). Songs from this album filled the entire Top Ten. In February 1996, also this album went gold. In 1996, Janek launched a new album called Sliby se maj plnit o Vánocích a 9 dalších (Promises to Keep at Christmas and Nine Others). The album immediately went gold and the Lucerna concert aired by Czech TV broke all previous records – it was followed by 62% of TV viewers.
In 1997 he received a Czech Grammy Award from Chris Rea. In the summer of the same year he recorded a new album called Mít kliku (Lucking Out) and signed a contract with BMG. He spent 1998 composing music for the musical Hamlet. The opening nights were November 1, 2, and 3, 1999, in the new Kalich Theatre in Prague. With almost 700 performances, three CDs (highlights, the complete recording and symphony album) and a book about its creation, the musical has become a real success in the Czech Republic.
Encouraged by his great success, Ledecký completed a new musical based on the life of the famous Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. The musical, entitled Galileo, was Prague's most eagerly anticipated premiere of 2003. It has been shown on the stage of the Kalich Theatre since February 15, 2003, and has had more than 400 performances.
At the same time, the success story of Janek’s previous musical continued – and took a new and fascinating direction. Stratford University Professor of Sociology and one of New Jersey's avid community theatre directors, Vince Parrillo, came to Kalich Theatre to see what he couldn't believe was possible. One of the theatre's most famous plays, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, had been transformed to a rock musical. He was so excited by the Prague production that he decided to do anything he could to bring Janek’s work to the United States. And he did it.
The whole American voyage started in the Leonia Theatre in New Jersey in April, 2002. It was a kind of “cut” version based on a rough translation with explanatory commentary by a narrator. It was an amazing success. Janek was not satisfied with the translation, but here he met George Harvilla, the poet awarded the Hemingway annual poet’s award in 2000. Janek created a kind of “contest” among other songwriters, letting them write lyrics for numbers in Hamlet. In two months Janek was sure that his first choice was the right one. George and Vince started to work immediately on a translation, or rather, “transpoetrisation”.
It sounds very strange when we're talking about translating Shakespeare from Czech to English. Janek studied many translations of Shakespeare’s plays into Czech, reflecting the development of the Czech language over almost two centuries. He finally decided to write the lyrics for his beloved drama in the most contemporary language possible. The English version reflects a deep respect for an Elizabethan genius in modern pop rock wording, too.
In September 2003, the first “big” opportunity came. The first stage reading took part at Lamb’s Theater on Broadway, with such stars as Louis Pitre from Mamma Mia, John Hickok and Delisco from Aida and Jeremy Kushnier from Rent as Hamlet.
There were three performances. All finished with standing ovations. The show was awarded by the TRU organization as one of the three best stage readings of 2003. The most important result, however, was that Robert Johanson, respected theater director, decided to join the team. He worked as the art director for the Paper Mill Play House, New Jersey's most prestigious theatrical scene, for almost twenty years and he adapted and directed more than 70 plays there, on Broadway, and in other American theaters.
Robert liked the stuff. His only condition was to get Janek to accept the idea of a “US” adaptation. So Janek with Martin Kumžák, the author of arrangements and orchestrations, went in January 2004 to Robert’s place to discuss what the US adaptation. They discovered immediately that Robert’s ideas were all based on his theatre experience and his love for Shakespeare.
The first opportunity to show part of the new adaptation was in April 2004 at Abingdon Theatre on 36th Street. Jeremy starred again as Hamlet, with Josh Tower (Simba from The Lion King) as Horatio, PJ Benjamin (Mr. Cellophane from Chicago) as Polonius and many other famous Broadway names. During the summer the team finished the final rewrites. In the summer of 2005 they decided to polish this production in the location where it all began. The results of the first “test shows” of the new adaptation in Prague were enthusiastic reactions from the audience, fantastic reviews in the media and a DVD containing the whole production.
The next step towards Broadway is the 50 - 100 performance U.S. national tour. It will open at the PAC in Tulsa, Oklahoma, next summer.
Hamlet immediately became a huge success in the musical theatre industry after opening in Seoul, South Korea in October 2007. Although the city hosted simultaneously almost another 70 musicals, Hamlet promptly achieved the second highest number of ticket sales after the first public dress rehearsals. The second season of Hamlet in Korea premiered in February 2008 and was nominated as the Best Foreign Musical alongside the productions Hairspray and Sweeney Todd. The third season opened in Seoul in August and this time ran for 250 performances. The 4th season of Hamlet started in October 2011 at the venue Universal Arts Centre.
The Japanese version, directed by Tamyo Kuryama opened in February 2011. After completing an amazing sell-out season in Tokyo, the production then continued its run in Osaca and Nagoya.
Prague theatre Broadway saw the premier of the ‘World version’ in the mid-March. Of course, the musical was performed in Czech.
The very same moment ‘Hamlet the Rock Opera’ exceeded an audience of one million. Broadway Theatre in Prague is now the regular home for another of Janek´s musicals - ‘A Christmas Miracle’. It runs every December and has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition. It is an honour to be a member of the cast according to an impressive list of the theatre and movie stars who simply love to be involved.
Janek is still touring with the legendary rock drummer Stepan Smetacek and British bass player Dave Mendez. During 2013 he returned to his musical roots and recorded the album ZENTOUR 007 after a 22 year break.
Robert Johanson has encouraged Janek to search again into the genius Shakespeare´s works. This time they are presenting a brand new musical ‘IAGO’ based on Othello. It will open in the 2013/2014 season.
Musical IAGO: http://www.iagomusical.cz
Musical Hamlet: http://www.hamlettherockopera.com