Soldaat van Oranje the musical continues to impress audiences after 8 years.

Back in December, I got tickets for Soldaat van Oranje the musical as a Sinterklaas gift. When I first got the ticket, I just looked around the room and smiled like a confused 6 year old lost in a mall. I had zero idea what or who ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ was. Little did I know I was getting a ticket to see the longest standing Dutch play, and the theatralisation of one of this country’s most famous war hero.

The plot! (NO SPOILERS)

The Soldier of Orange is not only the longest standing Dutch musical, also a book and a film. This 8-year standing musical tells the story of Dutch resistance hero Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzem during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. The play revolves around how the Nazi invasion changed the life of a then student Hazelhoff and his friends, forcing them to take life-defining decisions, and challenging everything they thought they knew about country, life, friendship and love. 

Soldaat van oranje the musical

You can catch the play at the ‘TheaterHangaar‘ on the former Valkenburg air base in Katwijk, near Leiden. Tickets and more information on the play can be found online here.

Solid acting, a very original production, and extremely catchy songs, this is a musical you definitely don’t want to miss… If you’ve been practicing your Dutch, of course.

How Soldaat van oranje the musical came to be.

Back in 2005, producer Fred Boot met Dutch resistance hero Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema. Shortly after meneer Boot decided to get the rights for a musical/play. In 2008, Boot invited theatre producer Robin de Levita and NEW PRODUCTIONS to join the endeavour of bringing the story of ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ to the theatre world. With a musical script written, directors on board and actors casted by late 2009, October 30th 2010 saw the premier of Soldaat van Oranje the musical. The highly anticipated premier had Queen Beatrix and Hazelhoff’s widow Karin among its audience. 8 year laters, the musical continues to bring Dutchies to see the play.

Soldaat van oranje the musical
A young Hazelhoff looking all hero-y.

The ‘TheatreHangar’ and ‘SceneAround’: A perfect location and set for the play.

‘TheatreHangar’

The former Valkenburg air base in Katwijk makes the perfect location for the play. The ‘TheatreHangar’ is an ex-military hangar that now serves as home of the musical. The events that unfold in Soldaat van Oranje the musical occur in WWII. And the ex-military air base brings the audience into this wartime context even before the first note starts. But they don’t stop there, the production of this musical makes sure to make good use of their set.

In 1945, Queen Wilhelmina returned to a then liberated Holland on a Dakota (a very big type of military plane).

Soldaat van oranje the musical
Welcome back, your majesty!

Well, the iconic scene of her majesty is recreated with a real Dakota, a real landing runway, andnot so real Queen stepping down from it. How do they do that? Time travel? Magic? Close, but not cigar. The fact that audiences can see this scene without having to leave their seats, is possible through the ridiculously amazing ‘SceneAround‘ auditorium producer Robin de Levita invented.

‘SceneAround’

You simply cannot rave about Soldaat van Oranje the musical without talking about its auditorium and set. The play uses a very unique theatrical performance system called ‘SceneAround’. It was actually invented by the musical’s producer Robin de Levita and developed for the musical. Now, what’s exactly ‘SceneAround’. Well, first off, it’s bonkers. But the good kind of bonkers. The amazing kind of bonkers actually. It’s much easier to understand when you experience it, but I’m gonna try my best to explain it.

Soldaat van oranje the musical
This is where the magic happens.

So, SceneAround was invited by producer de Levita, as a way to show the musical in the limits of the ‘TheatreHangar’. The auditorium has 1100 seats and sits on a rotating platform that can turn 360 degrees. The audience is surrounded by panels with projections being shown on them, and with the ability to open up and reveal different sets. There is a set that opens to reveal an actual landing runway with a Dakota airplane, and a set with an actual beach and real water… Yeah, an actual beach. No biggie.

MIND. BLOWN.

Actual representation of what happened in my head when the floor started rotating.

If it sounds unreal, it’s because it’s very unreal and amazing. And thus, hard to explain and put in words. The auditorium actually turns you (the viewer) around, and puts you in front of different sets with different sceneries! You can imagine my surprise when the auditorium started turning around for the first time WITHOUT NO ONE PREVIOUSLY TELLING ME THAT IT DID THAT. I actually thought there was an earthquake happening. Needless to say, it’s one of the most original production sets I have ever seen.

Can an expat enjoy the musical? Yes but also nee.

After 3 years in this country, I had never been in a building where I was the only foreigner. I can’t empirically prove it, but I’m pretty sure that was the case the night I saw the play. I’m 99% certain I was the only non-Dutch person in  the ‘TheatreHangar’ that night. But of course, that was to be expected. The musical is in Dutch, after all. And unlike Netflix, I can’t choose to have tiny English subtitles floating around. Regardless of the amazing songs and acting going on, anyone that does not understand Dutch cannot fully enjoy the play. So, if you’re thinking of heading to the ‘TheatreHangar’, I’d suggest that you first polish your Dutch!

And if you do speak Dutch and are worried that this play might be too Dutch for you to appreciate, worry not! I think three elements of this musical allow any expat to enjoy it.

– Its story and significance are very Dutch, but also universal

I think we can all objectively agree that WWII sucked and the Nazi invasion of The Netherlands was a horrible thing. Taking away freedom is horrible in general. The story of De Soldaat van Oranje portrays one of the country’s darkest moments, but also shows the determination and central values of its people. I think that no matter where you are from, you can relate to the values of freedom, justice and patriotism portrayed by Hazelhoff’s character.

Regardless, it was hard for me to understand the weight and significance of Hazelhoff’s actions because I am not Dutch. WWII and its horrors are as foreign to me as the drug war in Mexico is to my next door neighbour. At least on an emotional level. However, it was easy to see in the audience’s reaction during and after the play that the theme was very powerful. Jokes aside, it’s one of the few times I’ve seen Dutch people cry in public. I got goosebumps in some of the scenes, I can’t imagine what someone who’s great grandparents died in concentration camps might have felt…

– The actors and their characters are on point

The central theme is without a doubt is choice. Sometimes they’re easy to make, sometimes not so much. In times of war, they’re definitely hard to make. The Nazi invasion of The Netherlands took the lives of Eirk Hazelhoff and his friends by complete storm. The then students had to make life-changing decisions that sometimes went against what others believe or even themselves believed. Do you stay and fight for your country? Do you ignore everything and try to bury your head in the sand? It’s not easy to choose when they are literal Nazis on your doorstep.

It’s hard to imagine yourself in those shoes, but the actors in this musical do a very good job on making the audience care about their stories. And what’s more important, they show how complicated the choices made were. Also, the stories of the characters are based on the real life of Hazelhoff and his friends. A performance that was amazingly on point, was Wivineke van Groningen’s portrayal Koningin Wilhelmina. Definitely my favorite!

– The music is very catchy and very good!

It’s hard for me to really enjoy musicals because I really dislike musicals. I remember falling asleep for the entirety of The Phantom of the Opera from minute 15. So it should mean a lot when I say that this musical’s music is amazing! There’s a couple of songs that I can’t get out of my head and I keep singing in the shower. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this one was definitely my favourite!

You can check the entire playlist here.

Have you seen Soldaat van Oranje the musical? If not, do you have any plans on going? Let us know what you think of this play on the comment section below.

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