Fifty Million Frenchies Kissing a Lot of Frogs: Children’s Musical Theatre

Last time, I promised you a post about French children’s musical theatre. Here it is! In this post, I’m gonna talk to you about two adorable shows that I absolutely adore.

I am a fierce defender of children’s musical theatre, mainly because the simple fact that a show is designed for a young audience doesn’t take anything away from the quality of the work. “Childish” shouldn’t mean “stupid” and “simple” doesn’t mean “empty.” And as it happens, for a few years now, Paris has been filled with amazing children’s shows. Most of them are new takes on famous stories, like this version of Rapunzel or this version of Alice in Wonderland. But some of them also have original books without existing source material. The most famous two are dear old Emilie Jolie (1979) (the title is the name of the heroine – “Jolie” is her surname and means “pretty”) and Le Soldat Rose (2006) (“The Pink Soldier”).

Both have striking similarities: they were both written by a “chansons française” singer (Philippe Chatel or Louis Chedid), they were both originally produced as a concept album, and they both tell the story of a kid missing her/his parents and meeting numerous fantastical characters in a succession of “I want” and “I am” songs. They’re both sung by famous French singers who (for most of them) never had anything to do with musical theatre before and they’re both great.

Why are they great? It’s simple: the main reason is because they satisfy my need for songs sung by talking animals. There is for example a “Chanson des Lapins Bleus” (“Songs of the Blue Rabbits”) and aPanthère Noire en Peluche” (“The Black Panther Cuddly Toy”). More seriously, every character is very well written and cute as can be: a poor lonely hedgehog, a debuting Prince charming, a toy train. And the raccoon song:

Watch this video on YouTube.

The lyrics are also amazing. As a literature lover, I can be very harsh on lyrics. And most French lyrics used in rock songs or in famous shows like Le Roi Soleil are terrible in my opinion. They don’t rhyme, or they only use worn-out rhymes (like “amour” and “toujours.” Can you imagine how many terribly unimaginative lyrics were written just because in French “love” happens to rhyme with “forever”?). Or those lyrics don’t mean anything. Or they don’t fit with the character. In both Emilie Jolie and Le Soldat Rose, the lyrics are intelligent, interesting for both adult and children’s ears and are real theatre lyrics with meaning. Some are funny, some are moving. Some lines are flawed, of course, but the global result is fantastic!

Finally, Emilie Jolie and Le Soldat Rose are so typically French. As I said before, they were written for and by singers that come from a long tradition of French text songs (you may know Barbara, George Brassens or Jacques Brel for example). And (I may be paraphrasing Sondheim here): when you write music for lyrics in a specific language, you somehow keep the pattern of this language in your music. So your music ends up being typically French too. Those musicals are interesting because even though they were also inspired by American musical theater, they are not pretending to copy Broadway shows and are still keeping a typical French sound in the music and lyrics.

And one final reason those shows are so dear to me: I discovered musical theater through Emilie Jolie. I was probably 6. After two weeks I could sing every song by heart, and around 15 years later, I still know every single word. And I do hope that they will continue to inspire kids and make them love intelligent and well-written musical theatre.

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