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Everyone has danced with Death
but no one like Elisabeth!

Elisabeth is a German-language musical about Elisabeth (also known as Sisi), the wife of Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef II, focusing mainly on an imagined lifelong flirtation with Death himself (rendered as a handsome young man called "Der Tod"- German for "death") and Elisabeth's constant need for independence, often at the cost of her unconditionally loving husband and her hypersensitive son Crown Prince Rudolf. It is narrated from beyond the grave by Luigi Lucheni, the Italian anarchist who assassinated her in 1898. He does his best to turn the audience against her, but ultimately it is left to the viewer to decide about Elisabeth's character.

It premiered in Vienna in 1992 and was responsible for launching the careers of Pia Douwes (Elisabeth) and Uwe Kroger (Der Tod), who are today two of the most important performers in European musical theater. Elisabeth is also a popular offering by Japan's all-female Takarazuka Revue; actress Maki Ichiro, who played Der Tod while a Takarasienne, went on to play Elisabeth herself in a traditional male-and-female production after leaving the Revue, and Jun Sena is about to participate in her fourth production, going from Lucheni to Elisabeth to Der Tod (all Takarazuka) to Elisabeth again in a traditional production. Also, Hikaru Asami played Rudolf in the 1998 (Takarazuka) production and then went on to play Elisabeth in the 2008 male-and-female production, and will be alternating the role this fall with Jun Sena. Various productions often reinterpret the show, including new songs and adding or removing whole plotlines, depending on how familiar an audience is with the historical background.

This show contains examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Killing two of your children: It pretty much doesn't get any badder than this
    • AVERTED in the Takarazuka version, at least. Elisabeth actively resists Der Tod's attempts to seduce her, and doesn't starting falling for him until after Rudolf's death.
  • Anachronism Stew: The musical is really accurate (see Gorgeous Period Dress), but the design of Madame Wolf`s "salon" and the costumes in this scene in most versions is very modern. Justified, though. Or would you actually recognize a realistically portrayed nineteenth-century brothel? You usually don`t learn this in history class...
    • Getting Crap Past the Radar: YMMV, whether this applies to the whole scene, but Lucheni actually hitting on a woman from the audience as if she was a hooker, definitely counts.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Der Tod is Death.
  • Anti-Villain: der Tod
  • Aside Glance: Der Tod does this during the Takarazuka versions.
  • Back From the Dead: When Elisabeth has a terrible fall during childhood, and Der Tod brings her back to life.
    • Averted in the Hungarian version- time stops when Elisabeth falls, and Der Tod just never takes her to begin with. After the song "Every Path Is A Maze", Elisabeth simply recovers, stunned, from her fall.
  • Big No: When Elisabeth's first daughter, Sophie, dies of illness--at least, in the 2006 Vienna production.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Lucheni often uses italian expressions in his monolugue, which aren`t really necessary to understand the plot, but give insight into his opinion/thoughts.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Elisabeth's murder ends up looking like a release into the arms of her one true love, Der Tod.
  • Blond Guys Are Morally Grey Forces Of Destruction: In many, if not most productions, Der Tod is blond. Not always, though.
  • Bowdlerize: The Takarazuka version removes any mention of the death of Elisabeth's young daughter, anti-Semitic violence in Vienna and other darker aspects of the show.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Lucheni does this all the time in his narrations.
  • Dark Reprise: There are plenty of reprises of already fairly dark songs throughout Act II, but two stand out for being dark echoes of brighter songs: the reprise of "Wie Du", and especially "Boote in der Nacht", a poignant, resigned ballad in which the aged Elisabeth and Franz Joseph conclude that they were never meant to be together, set to the exact same melody as the Love Duet they sang as naive teenagers.
  • Driven to Suicide: Rudolf! NOOOOO!!!!
  • Dances and Balls: Two of the show's songs have the word 'dance' in the title (Der Letzte Tanz, Wenn Ich Tanzen Will) (Three if you include Totentanz) and one of the scenes takes place in a mirrored ballroom.
  • Estrogen Brigade Bait: Der Tod, Lucheni (sometimes), Rudolf and, depending on the production, sometimes even Franz Joseph.
  • Evil Is Sexy
  • Evil Matriarch: Elisabeth's mother-in-law, Sophie, is depicted (somewhat erroneously) as a cruel and domineering woman driven at all costs to break the spirit of the young empress and maintain an iron grip on Franz Josef. In history, Sophie was more along the lines of a Knight Templar Parent.
  • Final Love Duet: With a twist.
  • Follow the Leader: Michael Kunze obviously got the idea for the show after working on the translation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's musical Evita; there are way too many similarities between the two shows to ignore this. One can say that Elisabeth is virtually Evita on an epic scale.
  • Ghost Song: The prologue could count, though the setting leaves it ambiguous as to whether they're ghosts or the dead raised bodily for the purposes of reenacting the story. The reprise of "Wie Du" in which Elisabeth begs her father's spirit for guidance definitely counts, though.
    • The Hungarian and original Dutch versions also had Sophie's ghost sing a verse during Elisabeth's lament after Rudolf's suicide.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Lots of fun to be had with this, including several reproductions of dresses worn by the real Elisabeth.
  • Hey, It's That Guy! If you follow German- or Hungarian-language musical theater, every actor or actress you love probably has at least a 60% chance of having been in this show, even if it's only in the ensemble. Same with Takarazuka actresses.
    • Taken to a ridiculous extent with the original cast of Rebecca, also by Kunze and Levay. "Ich" had understudied Elisabeth in several productions, Maxim was the original Tod, Mrs. Danvers played Sophie, Favell was the Essen Lucheni, Frank played Franz Joseph in Essen and Vienna, and Beatrice was Countess Esterhazy.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the musicals characters. All of Elisabeth's family, Franz Joseph, Sophie, Rudolf, Lucheni and even some of the obscure minor ones.
    • One could say everyone- Death is certainly present in history...
  • Ho Yay: Der Tod's duet with Rudolf, Die Schatten werden langer ("The Shadows Grow Longer"), is basically made of this.
    • Depending on the production, the Mayerling Waltz sequence may, uh, climax with this element as well.
  • Interactive Narrator: Lucheni
  • Iron Woobie: Franz Josef gets this big time. After what happened to him in real life during and after his time with Sisi, could you really blame him?
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": It's eh-LEES-sah-bett, not eh-LIZ-uh-beth.
  • "I Want" Song: Ich gehör nur mir, despite starting out as an "I won't" song
  • Lemony Narrator: Lucheni.
  • Love Triangle: Elisabeth-Der Tod-Franz Josef
  • Manipulative Bastard: He manipulates everybody all so he can win Elisabeth's love.
  • Mayfly-December Romance: Could be considered such.
  • Mood Whiplash: "Nichts ist schwer", a tender love song between teenage Sisi and Franz Joseph, is immediately followed by the Ominous Pipe Organ of "Alle Fragen sind gestellt", which doubles as Soundtrack Dissonance since it's the accompaniment to their wedding (and thus the first Foreshadowing that things will not end well). The original production made the whiplash even harder by having the lovers suddenly collapse like puppets with cut strings as soon as "Nichts ist schwer" ended.
  • My Beloved Smother: Sophie.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Elisabeth visits an insane asylum and meets a patient who believes that she herself is the empress.
  • No Export for You: Don't hold your breath if you're expecting an English language production any time soon.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Der Tod, in some productions.
  • Pieta Plagiarism: Just look at that illustration there.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: Subverted, in that "Nichts, Nichts, Gar Nichts' is the song in which Elisabeth makes a conscious decision NOT to go mad, however tempting the prospect.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Elisabeth, not Elizabeth
  • Stalker with a Crush: Der Tod, except in Hungary. Hungarian!Der Tod is clearly presented as Elisabeth's true love, and her relationship with Franz Josef frankly seems a bit like she's cheating on him.
  • Take That, Audience!: In the song Kitsch, Lucheni mocks the audience for expecting a pretty fairy tale about the lovely empress and her handsome husband. Note that the audiences of the original production went in expecting exactly that.
    • Uwe Kroger, the original Death, went into his audition thinking it was an adaptation of the 1950s "Sisi" films and hoping to be cast as Franz Josef, so the show kind of surprised everyone with its Darker and Edgier approach.
  • True Love's Kiss: Also serves as the Kiss of Death in this case.
  • The Dead Can Dance: Shown in the awesome "Prologue"
  • The Grim Reaper: A rather unusual one.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted, in that it's hard to blame Franz Josef for seeking out a prostitute's affections when Elisabeth ignores him as much as she does.
  • Villainous Cheekbones: The makeup design for Der Tod in the Hungarian version has these to the point of streaks of silvery-blue glitter being added to highlight them. Ironically, the Hungarian portrayal of Der Tod is just about the most innocent version there is.
  • White-Haired Pretty Boy - The Takarazuka versions of Der Tod.