To paraphrase the Bible, ‘No one is a prophet in his own land’. Surely this no more true than in France, where Alain Boublil, the man who wrote the book and lyrics for two of the most successful musicals in the world, Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, is hardly a well-known name.
Boublil held a splendid masterclass at La Générale in Montreuil, an event organised by Samuel Sené, who runs workshops at the theatre for a school called Musidrama and who has directed his own students in the performances of Boublil’s works.
It was a step towards well-deserved recognition for the Frenchman whose fame doesn’t go beyond a lucky few musical theatre connoisseurs.
Boublil’s anecdotes were enlightening, especially when he referred to Les Misérables’ moderate success in its French-language creation.
It was also interesting to learn that Miss Saigon, as yet to be performed in France, was also actually written in French before being translated into English and becoming history.
Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s first musical, La Révolution Française, was actually just a collection of unrelated songs stuck together in a book at the last moment, much in the way that most French musicals of today are.
But from Les Misérables on, they rallied with the American musical tradition of developing the book first and then making each song theatrical enough to move the story forward.
This is probably what caught the attention of producer Cameron Mackintosh when he randomly listened to the CD concept album of Les Misérables at a friend’s house, a story amusingly told by Boublil as part of his informative Q&A with the audience.
We also discovered that he rewrote his original lyrics to accord with the English translation for the comparatively successful French-language revival in 1991 at Théâtre Mogador.
Boublil also shared his serious doubt that Miss Saigon will ever be produced in France, even though its subject matter would surely appeal to the French public. He chiefly blamed financial reasons, for a show of that stature needed a longer run than musicals normally enjoy in France just to break even.
The postponement of The Phantom of The Opera, despite its obvious French roots, following a blaze at the theatre, surely won’t contradict such pessimism.
Boublil expressed his wish that a new director might one day give his or her own stripped-down version of Les Misérables, but right now, aside from rewriting a new version of Martin Guerre, he is currently involved in a French adaptation of his musical Margeurite, co-written with Michel Legrand, which had too brief of a run in London in 2008.
Sené will also be involved in the French version of this musical, again based on a French classic, La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas.
Sené’s love for musical theatre shone throughout the whole evening, while he accompanied his best students from the Musidrama workshop. Some of these artists are set to perform in the original musical Flop, written by Alexandre Bonstein and Sinan Bertrand, with music by Patrick Laviosa, to be performed on 26 and 27 March, and the forthcoming musical based on Jack the Ripper, premiering on 31 May and 1 June.
Performances that stood out were of Stanislas Clément singing ‘Why God, Why?’ from Miss Saigon and Raphaëlle Arnaud’s ‘How Many Tears’ from Martin Guerre.
It was also nice to have a song from the legendary flop, The Pirate Queen: ‘Woman’, performed by Alice Pech.