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

By Mervyn Rothstein
22 Jan 2013

Greta Scacchi as Desiree Armfeldt

A Sondheim musical had never been performed in Paris until 2010, when Choplin presented A Little Night Music, starring Leslie Caron and Greta Scacchi, for one week. The production was highly praised. In 2011, he presented Sweeney Todd to equal acclaim.

"There's big excitement in town about Sunday in the Park With George," Choplin says. "There's a buzz about having another Stephen Sondheim piece here." The Seurat painting, he says, "is very, very famous in France. It's a masterpiece which Paris is sadly missing. We're very happy it is well kept in [the Art Institute of] Chicago, but the Musée d'Orsay in Paris would do anything to get the painting one day for an exhibition. There is an excitement about Seurat, an excitement after the success of A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd."

Sunday in the Park will be preceded by Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1945 classic, Carousel, March 18-27; Street Scene, in addition to Jan. 25, plays Jan. 27, 29 and 31.

Weill called Street Scene his "American opera." It's set on a New York tenement street and based on the 1929 Elmer Rice Pulitzer Prize-winning play. "It's a musical, but at the same time it's Kurt Weill," Choplin said. "Weill is not very often performed here in Paris. The only piece very famous is The Threepenny Opera, which he did with Bertolt Brecht. But we have already sold most of the tickets, so we are very happy with the reaction of our public with a new piece."

When it comes to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "here in Paris, there is no idea of what Carousel is," Choplin says. "People now are trusting Châtelet," which has twice presented Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (in 2009 and 2011). "They are looking at Carousel because we are saying it is one of the best musicals ever, and we already have very good sales. It's not at all a piece known, like West Side Story or Sound of Music or My Fair Lady. It's a very well kept secret."

This past fall, Choplin brought back West Side Story to Châtelet, where it had been a hit in 2007. "It was really a triumph," Choplin said. "We sold out 87 performances" between Oct. 24 and Jan. 1.

"It was a phenomenon," he adds. "Thousands of people were trying to get tickets and we could not provide them."