Fifty Million Frenchies Kissing a Lot of Frogs: An Overview of French MT
In my last post, I told you about the stereotypical picture of Paris we can find in musical theatre. Fine, but then what kind of MT can we actually find in France?
In this post, I will only tell you about shows or movies that were originally written in French. (Paris also welcomes translations of English-speaking shows or even American shows in the original text. I will tell you about those in another post.) Many of these shows come from France, but some were written in the French language but come from Canada, Belgium or Switzerland. I however think I mention that when it’s the case.
So here’s a non-exhaustive list of what’s happening in France:
Paris welcomes lots of huge shows that happen in big theatres with dozens of dancers. Their music has actually become part of popular culture and you can often hear it on rock radio stations. I would say there are two types of French blockbusters: those that pay a real attention to the book and the lyrics and taking inspiration from the different American and European traditions of musical theatre, and those that look more like rock concerts than theatre. The first sort includes of course Les Mis but also shows like the French-Canadian Starmania (Michel Berger, Luc Plamandon, 1978), a futurist work about loneliness, politics and lot of other things. Rock concert shows will definitely need a post of their own, so I’ll keep it short.
2. Tiny Projects:
Those big shows I have just told you about may get a lot of attention, a lot of wonderful tiny projects are also to be found in France, if you know where to look! Dozens of shows are created with small casts and about very different subjects. Cabaret Jaune Citron (Stephane Ly-Cuong, Christine Khandjian, 2011) is a perfect example of such small projects that are advancing French MT forward.
3. Musical Films:
France also has its movie musicals. Michel Legrand and Jacques Demy made world-famous movies usually filled with a joyous and sweet atmosphere like Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1969), or Peau d’âne (1970). Decades later, another team made of movie director Christophe Honoré and composer-lyricist Alex Beaupain made two wonderful movies, Les Chansons d’amour (2007) and Les Bien Aimés (2011), about different kinds of love in modern society.
Bonus: this video allows you to see rainy grey Paris.
Are Operettas actually Musical Theatre? Well, I don’t want to enter the debate. However, I really need to profess my undying love for operetta writer Jacques Offenbach. His operettas are still performed everywhere in France, in big theatres or in tiny rooms with all different kinds of staging. Those perfect lyrics and catchy melodies deserve nothing less!
5. Children’s Musical Theatre:
Those will also need a post of their own. Maybe it’s because most French people don’t really take Musical Theatre seriously that there are so many children’s shows in Paris. Anyway, most of those children’s shows are wonderful and also appeal to an adult audience. And the blue rabbit leader in Emilie Jolie (Philippe Chatel, 1979) is my absolute dream role.
6. Jukebox Musicals
French artists also have their Jukebox musicals. I’m not sure about how I feel about those shows but, well, they do exist. The show Salut les copains! (2012), for example, is a mix of popular songs from the ’60s (including some written in English).
Basically, French MT has the same musical theatre genres that America has, with one exception: I have never heard of a French song cycle yet. I hope to discover one soon! The French general musical theatre landscape may not be really developed yet, but a lot of people are working to change that situation and Paris is becoming a really nice city for a musical theatre lover to live in.
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