If 2020 had been a normal year, then many people would now be laughing heartily and celebrating a great anniversary at the popular Boulevardtheater am Willy-Brandt-Platz. But 2020 is unfortunately no ordinary year and theatre director Prof. Claus Helmer and his team really don't feel like celebrating at the moment. Nevertheless, on the occasion of the anniversary we should think of all the many wonderful hours that "Die Komödie" has given its audience, but also many great actors and actresses. The theatre has just turned 70 years old. It has been seven decades in which the audience has been amused, distracted and sometimes made to think. Many famous names have been on stage here - from the former "Metropolis" star Gustav Fröhlich or the Starship Orion actress Eva Pflug to Joachim Fuchsberger, Jutta Speidel and Hugo-Egon Balder. Helmer has only ever experienced the theatre being closed for more than one day. When the house of the comedy was demolished in 1998 and after 16 months more modern, and enlarged to 1,000 square meters, it could resume its play. "Otherwise, there has never been, otherwise the only days without a performance were the premiere preparations and the 24th of December," Claus Helmer notes.
Now not only have performances been canceled for months, but the birthday party for his theater has also fallen victim to the Corona pandemic. The director can only toast the comedy in silence with his wife Christine Glasner, with whom he has appeared on stage countless times himself,
Something like 1972, when, just 28 years young, he took over the private theater. Until then it had been run by actor and director Helmut Kollek, who had founded it in the post-war period, at the end of 1950, as the "Theater am Roßmarkt". At that time, plays were performed in a tiny establishment in a half-bombed-out house above a bookshop. On 132 hard chairs, the people of Frankfurt saw plays such as Ernst Nebhut's "Die Vergessenen", but also Curt Götz's comedy "Ingeborg". Three years later, the theatre moved across the street to the house at Roßmarkt 11, where, among others, Karl Lieven, who had returned from England, performed for the first time in Germany. After ten years, the lease there was not renewed. Helmut Kollek moved to the present address, Neue Mainzer Straße 18, and from then on called his theatre "Die Komödie". The name became the programme, the repertoire was to be entertaining, without "problematics and literary avant-gardism". Stars such as Gisela Uhlen, Lis Verhoeven and Erik Ode were now on stage, as well as Frankfurt artists such as Anneliese Telluren and Wolfgang Bieger.
As the new theatre director, Claus Helmer continued to bring celebrities such as Walter Giller and Hannelore Schroth to Frankfurt. Paul Hubschmid, one of the stars of the post-war period whom Helmer held in particularly high esteem, played several times in the comedy. "I like all my actors, but he was a gentleman of the old school and quite delightful as a human being," the theatre boss recalls, and an episode about the colleague immediately comes to mind: Hubschmid would certainly not have been pleased if he had overheard the two ladies chatting in front of the poster with his picture one evening before the performance.
The day before, the 1959 Fritz Lang film "The Tiger of Eschnapur", in which Hubschmid played the leading role, had been shown on television. Looking at the poster showing him twenty years later, the ladies noted impassively, "He sure got old all of a sudden."
And Claus Helmer can tell another anecdote from his long career as a theater director, stage manager and actor. In the mid-1980s, Harald Juhnke visited him one evening at the Komödie. "On stage we were playing a play in which the actors were drinking champagne. Juhnke unceremoniously went on stage and said, "I'll gladly have a drink with you." The audience greeted the actor with thunderous applause. But one audience member promptly complained to Claus Helmer afterwards, "Why isn't Mr. Juhnke on the poster if he's in it?"
For the theater boss, the empty rows of seats in the currently closed comedy are not an easy sight. "I've been on stage since I was 12 years old, so every night I get the itch to go to the theater and perform." The fact that for the first time in 48 years there won't be a New Year's Eve performance where he can toast with his audience in person also saddens him. He hopes the comedy can reopen as soon as possible next year. But he finds it difficult to plan for the long term.
He actually wanted to celebrate his 65th stage anniversary in March 2021 with the second part of the play "Monsieurs Claude and his Daughters". With more than 80 sold-out performances, the first part was one of the successful comedy productions before the Corona pandemic. But because of the hygiene regulations, which already make it impossible for eleven people to play on stage, he would rather not risk such a venture for the time being. But theatre people are generally optimistic people, Claus Helmer concludes. That's why he hopes that the comedy will experience better times again in its 71st year.
We hope so too and wish the comedy and the whole team all, all the best for their anniversary - in anticipation of better times that will hopefully come soon.