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Teatro Sistina: take in a musical in Rome

At the Teatro Sistina, you’ll really get a feel for the cultural scene in the Italian capital. Want to feel like a local? Simply buy a ticket for a show or concert in this venue whose stage has been graced by such famous names as Liza Minelli, Louis Armstrong, Marcello Mastroianni and Woody Allen with his jazz band.

You’ll find the theatre on Via Sistina, in an extremely pretty and buzzing area of central Rome close to Piazza Barberini, the church of Trinità dei Monti and the Convento dei Frati Cappuccini. It’s the perfect part of town for a stroll either before or after your show. The building was designed by architect Marcello Piacentini, and the huge hall is free of columns, enabling fantastic views of the stage from any point.

The Teatro Sistina and its architectural quirks

Contrary to other performance spaces, the Teatro Sistina is particularly striking on account of a complete absence of columns and other structures. The semi-circular theatre measures 28 metres wide by 30 metres deep and this vast space is free from any architectural features which could block the view from any point in the hall. It’s an elegant performance space with fantastic acoustics. There are 1,015 seats in the stalls and a further 566 in the gallery.

The building was opened in 1949 and is the work of Marcello Piacentini, an architect and town planner who was a favourite of Benito Mussolini. He worked unceasingly throughout Italy during the Fascist regime, and his work is most famous for its classically inspired monumentalism.



The origins of the Teatro Sistina

In the early days the theatre had close ties to the world of cinema and was the venue for important film premieres. Opening day had a screening of The Walls of Malapaga, by French director René Clément. The venue was a joint theatre and cinema for a while, though this format didn’t work out. Over time theatrical works gained preference, with musical comedy eventually becoming the speciality.

Garinei and Giovannini, the winning formula at the Teatro Sistina

The Teatro Sistina has a long and successful history behind it and its stage has witnessed notable premieres and performances from artists at the very top of their game. Generations of theatre-goers have sat back to enjoy popular stage shows including Rugantino, West Side Story, Mary Poppins and Evita, to name but a few. Among the names to tread the boards here are the much-admired Italian actors Marcello Mastroianni, Alberto Sordi and Aldo Fabrizi, not to mention various international names who have performed here, among them Liza Minelli, Louis Armstrong, Burt Bacharach and Woody Allen.

The management prowess of Pietro Garinei and Sandro Giovannini has been key to the theatre’s success. These two famous figures from Italy’s cultural scene worked tirelessly for 46 years, and it was thanks to this pair of playwrights and theatre directors that Italian musical comedy was born.

Their links to the Teatro Sistina were first made in 1950 when they opened the season with the premiere of La Bisarca, a musical variety show. The cutting-edge content coupled with elegant and modest staging by Giulio Coltellacci captivated the public and became the hallmark of a theatre that would go on to stage the great musical variety performances of the time.

Rome’s theatre-goers loved the format, but a group of cinema entrepreneurs would later take up the reins and revert back to the big screen. It wasn’t until 1960 that Garinei and Giovannini took over management of this private performance space and set it back on the theatre track. International acclaim began pouring in. The duo threw their weight behind musical comedy and achieved some memorable successes. In 1977, following Giovannini’s death, Garinei took to the helm alone until his own passing in 2006.

Memorable debuts in the Teatro Sistina

Garinei and Giovannini wrote several stage shows, many of which were translated into other languages and performed across the world. One particularly memorable date in the theatre’s history was December 15th 1963 – the premiere of Rugantino. This work by the duo would go on to become one of the most popular musicals in Italy of all time.

Nino Manfredi played the quintessentially Roman character of Rugantino. Arrogant, and fond of blowing his own trumpet, Rugantino nevertheless has a big heart and slowly wins over the audience. Manfredi was joined on stage by Lea Massari as Rosetta, Bice Valori as Eusebia and Aldo Fabrizi as Mastro Titta.

The work is still a regular feature in the theatre where it was first performed.  In 1973, Rugantino was adapted for the big screen (though not as a musical), directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile with Adriano Celentano and Claudia Mori in the main roles.



Hallmarks of the Teatro Sistina

The Teatro Sistina works with a combination of Italian and foreign staging techniques. It prides itself on staging premieres of the best international shows and on its in-house production. Hence the critics’ nickname: ‘Italian Broadway’.

The theatre enjoys official recognition by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities on account of its support of the Italian musical theatre genre. It welcomes contemporary works, embraces new trends and caters to what the public wants. Over recent years it was managed by Gianmario Longoni, followed by Massimo Romeo Piparo.

Year after year the public continues to pack out the ‘Romans’ Theatre’. Recent sell-outs have included a musical production of Peter Pan and contemporary versions of Rugantino and other works. Il Marchese del Grillo, starring Enrico Montesano and directed by Massimo Romeo Piparo, was seen by more than 50,000 people over just five weeks in 2015! The sold out banner was put up more than twelve times.

Contemporary productions have included Ghost, Mary Poppins, Belle Ripiene and The Full Monty.

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