Passion for American Musicals Is Strong in Paris; Sondheim, Lapine, Weill, Bernstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein Embraced

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23 Jan 2013

Jean-Luc Choplin
Jean-Luc Choplin
Photo by Denis Lacharme-Th

Jean-Luc Choplin, the director of the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, is continuing his love affair with the American musical — and, he says, Parisians are now having their own affaire de coeur with our theatrical trademark.


This season he is presenting four American musicals — all in English, with French surtitles, culminating with the Paris premiere of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and librettist James Lapine's Sunday in the Park With George, starring Julian Ovenden as 19th-century French Impressionist painter Georges Seurat. Choplin says that Sunday in the Park will have new orchestrations for a 46-piece orchestra by Michael Starobin, the musical's original orchestrator, and that Sondheim himself is to attend opening night in April.

Beginning Jan. 25, Châtelet will present The Opera Group/Young Vic co-production of Kurt Weill, Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes' 1947 Broadway opera, Street Scene.

Next season, Choplin is planning to present Into the Woods, Sondheim and James Lapine's 1988 adult take on fairy tales, and a revival for Christmas of Châtelet's 2010 production of My Fair Lady. He is also contemplating offering Carmen Jones, the 1943 Broadway musical based on the Georges Bizet opera Carmen and transplanted to an African-American, World War II-era setting using Bizet's music with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

"We have done the classics, and at the same time we are doing Stephen Sondheim, a living and breathing composer," Choplin says from Paris, where his office on the Right Bank overlooks the Seine. "It's amazing for us to see that so many people are discovering that this music is phenomenal, fantastic, sophisticated. It's like suddenly opening a large window on a new world."

Sunday in the Park, starring Ovenden, the English stage, film and TV performer who appeared Off Broadway in 2011 in the musical version of Death Takes a Holiday, will play the ornate 2,500-seat theatre April 15-25. The Sondheim musical marks the next chapter in Choplin's successful effort to bring the composer's work to French audiences. It is a fictionalized account of the creation of Seurat's masterpiece "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte." The 1984 Broadway musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Parisians, Choplin says, "have discovered Stephen Sondheim as one of the last giants of the Broadway scene." And "this is almost like a new creation, with new orchestrations being made for a large orchestra."


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