The great showdown of the Martin Guerres is upon us.
Through a strange conjunction of art and fate, two major musical adaptations of the Martin Guerre story have opened within 10 days of one another -- one in London July 10 with the imprimatur of Cameron Mackintosh, the other July 1 to in Chicago with the imprimatur of the Goodman Theatre, one of the foremost U.S. resident theatres. See separate stories for reviews.
Both are based on the story of a man who returns to a French farm in the 16th century after an absence of many years. Even his wife isn't sure it's the same man -- but she sure likes the new Martin better than the one who left.
The story was filmed in French as The Return of Martin Guerre in 1981 with Gerard Depardieu in the title role, and in English in 1994 as Sommersby (relocating the story to the American Civil War) with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.
The £3.5 million London Martin Guerre is the latest musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, who wrote Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. Their version has been set against the backdrop of the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants that followed the Reformation. Both of B&S's big hits also have wars as backdrops: Vietnam for Miss Saigon and an 1830s urban uprising for Les Miserables. The London Martin Guerre began previews June 21 at the Prince Edward Theatre. Opening night is July 10. Iain Glen plays the central character, with other leading roles being played by Juliette Caton, Jerome Pradon and Matthew Rawle. Declan Donnellan directed and Bob Avian choreographed. Edward Hardy has done the English translation. Jonathan Tunick is doing the orchestrations.
Various British publications have reported standing ovations at previews, but the Guardian reported that audiences were confused by a flashback in Act I, and that rewrites were underway in the last days before opening.
The Chicago musical, titled The House of Martin Guerre opened July 1 and is being eyed by commercial producers for a commercial run beyond Chicago. See accompanying story. Leslie Arden wrote music and lyrics; Anna Theresa Cascio wrote the book. Anthony Crivello plays Arnaud, Julain Molnar plays Bertrand and Guy Adkins plays Martin. The Chicago production's limited run ends Aug. 4.
Ironically, the London Telegraph reported, Mackintosh may have only himself to blame for the competing Martin. Arden reportedly came to him some years back seeking ideas for musicals. He suggested the works of Marcel Pagnol, which led her to the film Jean de Florette, which led her to that film's star, Gerard Depardieu, which led her to his film of The Return of Martin Guerre. The Telegraph story said Mackintosh "wishes her well."
Yet a third musical version of the story was done at Hartford Stage Company in 1993 by a separate set of writers.