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At a scene of tragedy in Moscow, an act of hope

Cut off mid-song by a terrorist attack three months ago, a patriotic Russian musical returns to the stage.

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To a packed theater, the players roared through their familiar song and dance numbers. Nobody skipped a beat as they came to the moment when, just three months ago, a group of masked Chechens had burst onto the stage firing assault rifles and unleashing a 60-hour ordeal of terror.

The cast of the Russian musical "Nord-Ost" chose to launch their return to the stage Saturday with minimal eulogizing or politicized rhetoric. Their sole remembrance was a moment's silence for the 170 people who died when security forces stormed the hall on Oct. 26. "We went through a lot of trepidation, and had to prepare ourselves psychologically for coming back," says director Georgy Vasilyev. "We decided to look forward, not backward, so as to banish the feelings of fear from this place."

"Nord-Ost," billed as the first Broadway-style musical based on a Russian novel, is an exuberant, patriotic show full of expensive special effects, including a real plane that lands onstage. Before the terrorist attack cut short its first year-long Moscow run, nearly 300,000 people had seen it. Yet the tale it tells is a dark historical drama of war, murder, famine, intrigue, and betrayal that seems more the stuff of Shakespearian tragedy than frothy musical. "We are aware of the irony that 'Nord-Ost,' being about very painful episodes in Russian history, itself became one," says Mr. Vasilyev.

He was among the 800 audience and cast members held at gunpoint by the Chechen "suicide warriors." The toxic knockout gas used by Russian security forces to subdue the attackers also killed 129 hostages - 17 of them cast members, including two child actors. Despite the horror they endured, all surviving members of the company signed up for "Nord- Ost's" revival. The audience Saturday also included former hostages. "I'm just happy to be here as a free person, not a hostage," said Alyona Strelnikova. "Bringing back 'Nord-Ost' was the right thing to do."

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