Paris is not very famous for its musicals so with a few new musicals opening this season, the fall 97/98 season can be considered a very rich one.
After the much-awaited French production of Maury Yeston's "Nine" (read our feature about "Nine") featuring a Les Miserables cast member vet (Jerome Pradon), another much-awaited musical (there has been talk about this show since 1992) is opening Oct. 3, with a former Pradon's co-star. La vie en bleu, a new musical by Jean-Michel Beriat and Raymond Jeannot about the life of Picasso, will have Stephanie Martin as Germaine. Martin, a Canadian performer, has played Eponine in Toronto, Paris and London with great success. La vie en bleu will be staged by star director Robert Hossein who directed the very first version of Les Miserables in 1980. Hossein is renowned for his big budget stage productions. He is also an actor and film director (he directed a film version of Les Miserables in 1983). (For tickets and information on "La vie en bleu" at the Theatre Mogador, call 331 53 32 32 00).
Another star director is Jerome Savary, director of the Theatre National de Chaillot, who will pay a tribute to French songwriter/singer Charles Trenet from May, 14 to July, 12. Trenet is one of the rare French artists to have reached an international status thanks to a couple of his compositions that have became standards. "Beyond the sea" and "I wish you love" are among Trenet's most famous songs. This musical tribute called Y'a d'la joie... et d'l'amour will be the opportunity for Savary to return to the musical. His 1987 production of Cabaret was a big hit in France and revealed Ute Lemper to the French audience but his 1996 revised version of the Kander and Ebb musical had not found the same success. Joining the cast of this Trenet tribute will be Michel Dussarat, the Emcee of Cabaret, performer and costume designer whose stage presence is always an exquisite delight.
(For tickets and information on Y'a d'la joie... et d'l'amour at the Theatre National de Chaillot, call 331 53 65 30 00).
Most of the musicals and musical revues playing in Paris this fall will be last season's hits reopening after the traditional August break. Speaking of famous French singers, Piaf is definitely the one. Piaf, je t'aime, a musical about the legendary French artist, received very bad reviews when it opened in 1995 except for the well-reviewed Nathalie Cerda as Piaf. Cerda won a Moliere Award (French equivalent of the Tonys) of the Best Newcomer of that year for her performance. This revised version will star Nathalie Lhermitte as Piaf and taking over this role after Cerda will probably be a difficult task for Lhermitte. For tickets and information on Piaf, je t'aime at the Theatre de l'Eldorado, call 331 42 38 07 54. Running until Oct. 5).
Winner of three Moliere Awards last year (including Best Musical), Le Passe-Muraille reopened Aug. 19. This novel by Marcel Ayme about a man who gets the power to cross the walls has received the musical treatment. Legrand, one of the most famous French composers, has written the score of this new musical while successful writer Didier Van Cauwelaert provided the lyrics.
For tickets and information on Le Passe-Muraille at the Bouffes Parisiens, call 331 42 96 92 42)
Another Moliere Award winner is Starmania reopening on Oct. 24 and running until Jan. 4. This pop opera written by Luc Plamondon and the late Michel Berger was born as a concept album in the late 70's collecting top hits, one after another. Each production of Starmania has been a success ever since. This second revival (entering its fifth season) has been directed by Canadian director Lewis Furey. When this revival production opened in 1993 a complete English version had been written by Tim Rice and the show was performed in English once a week during a short period. Prior to that, an album with Rice lyrics, called Tycoon, was recorded with pop stars such as Cyndi Lauper, Celine Dion and Tom Jones, among others.
(For tickets and information on "Starmania" at the Palais des Sports, call 331 44 68 44 68).
Another hit from the past season, L'ultima recital is a small scale musical delight that has turned cult thanks to the incredible personnality of its performer, Marianne James. This show features a incredibly funny story of a love-hate relationship between an over-the-top operatic diva and her discreet female pianist. This musical fight is a real showcase of James' (as the diva) vocal possibilities from opera to blues or rock. The show is scheduled to reopen this fall, depending on James' health.
For tickets and information on L'Ultima Recital at the Theatre Daunou, call 331 42 36 43 43).
Other projects are rumoured more or less precisely this season. A production of Hair is scheduled at the Olympia from Jan. 6-14 but no further information was available.
A musical revue featuring the songs of the cult French writer Boris Vian is scheduled to open in Grenoble on January. The Vian review will be directed by Laurent Pelly with the cast of Souingue! his former musical revue. Souingue! was one of the most exciting shows of the last season, featuring French songs influenced by jazz music.
There is also talk about a new revue about Saint-Germain des Pres and the Left Bank, so Vian's songs will probably be featured in it too. Another nostalgia piece, a tribute to the Beatles tentatively called All you need is love, was scheduled to open this fall but has been postponed to next year.
With a quite exciting season for musical lovers, the '98 season promises to be even more thrilling. Expected for October '98 is the big return of Liliane Montevecchi at the Theatre du Chatelet for a show called La Guerre des Plumes (The War of the Feathers). Surprisingly enough, Montevecchi is much more famous in the States than in her own country. Also expected next year is a new musical based on Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, with lyrics by Luc Plamondon and music by Italian singer Richard Cocciante. A big search for the perfect Esmeralda is being held in France right now. The production wishes to open Sept. 18 at the Palais des Congres for a 3-month run.
-- By Stephane Ly-Cuong