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A few years ago I wrote a post about my favorite comédie* musicale française (French musical), Starmania. At the time I alluded to the fact that, after years of all but ignoring the art form, France had a bit of a resurgence of modern comédies musicales over the past decade. As recently as 2013, there were no less than 20 shows running in Paris!**
The modern (?) musical
In some respects the big comédies musicales in France, or what might more appropriately be called spectacles musicals (musical shows/performances), are perfectly modern. Featuring contemporary music stars, radio-friendly pop and rock-influenced songs, and often involving large production budgets, these shows tiennent plus du concert que de pièce de théâtre (are more concert than play). In some respects their raison d’être*** is to generate interest in the songs more than the show.
In other respects, these spectacles are imminently classic. While downplaying the actual story, they often draw on some of the most classic tales from French and from world literature. Drawing on Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers), Louis XIV, Roméo et Juliette (Romeo and Juliet), or Mozart, they sketch out enough detail from these classic tales and biographies to frame the real stars of the show, les chansons (the songs).
Les Trois Mousquetaires
This clip features the French Canadian singer Olivier Dion as D’Artagnan (along with other stars of the original production). You can learn more about the spectacle here.
Roméo et Juliette
This clip from the 2016 Sidaction**** features an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet called Les Rois du Monde (The Kings of the World).
Le roi Artur
This clip (Auprès d’un autre / Near to another) is from a spectacle musical based on the legend of King Arthur (which is most commonly associated with Great Britain, but has roots in France!)
* Don’t let the name fool you, all ‘comédies musicales’ are not comedies. The French word ‘comédie’ (as in La Comédie Française) can more generally refer to a play or theater performance. You can find its echo in the words ‘comédien’ and ‘comédienne‘ which are synonyms for ‘acteur (actor)’ and ‘actrice (actress)’.
** I have to acknowledge a great 2013 article by Xavier Dupuis and Bertrand Labarre called Le renouveau du spectacle musical en France (The revival of the musical in France) for some of the background for this post.
*** While less common than rendez-vous or RSVP, this is another of those great French expressions that has made its way into English. It literally means ‘reason for being’.
**** Sidaction is an annual event to raise funds for research into prevention and treatments for HIV. SIDA is the French acronym Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
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By Laganart [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons