Claude-Michel Schönberg Chats About London Saigon, Broadway Les Miz and Martin Guerre Future

By St
19 Jun 2014

Claude-Michel Sch
Claude-Michel Sch
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Two of London-based French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg's major hits are currently enjoying successful revivals. While Les Misérables is going strong on Broadway, a new production of Miss Saigon recently opened in London to enthusiastic response. Playbill.com caught up with the award-winning composer.

This new production of Miss Saigon broke box-office records for advance bookings on the first day of sales. Did you expect this?
Schönberg: We knew the show was awaited, but we didn't know what to expect financially. So when the box office reached £4.4 million on the first day of sales, of course, we were very happy. You can never tell if reviving a show is too soon, too late or if your show is not too dated. We were wondering if we were the last dinosaurs of musical theatre! Then, we realized that the audience was renewing itself with younger members. It has been nice to see a younger crowd attending Miss Saigon, as well as the latest production of Les Miserables on Broadway. The success of the movie might have helped, as well as Susan Boyle's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." Kids started to realize that the song, that had been viewed millions of times on YouTube, was actually from a musical.

This new production of Miss Saigon offers quite a few changes...
Schönberg: The major changes are mostly technological. Now, people have expectations when it comes to sets and technology. We had to adapt, accordingly, although the most important thing is to stay true to the soul of your work. And, it has been my task during the two months-and-a-half of rehearsing process. A show that is too perfect is like a person that is too perfect: It may lack charm and vulnerability. Saigon is a rollercoaster of emotions, so it works, but you can't tell before you perform it in front of an audience.

You have a cast from all around the world...
Schönberg: Eighteen different nationalities are represented on stage: United States, Korea, Philippines, Norway... Just before opening night, we all joined hands to form a circle. I told them: "When we see you, we can't imagine that war is possible." It's really inspiring, it gives hope, you have the feeling that mankind is better. We all worked in the same direction, hand in hand.

Can you say something about your leading lady, Eva Noblezada?
Schönberg: Our wonderful casting director, Tara Rubin, spotted her at her school show, in North Carolina. Eva flew to London to audition. She is a natural talent, a miracle like it rarely happens, like it happened with Lea Salonga. She is young [Noblezada turned 18 during rehearsals], so she doesn't have any stage experience, but she carries the whole show on her shoulders, along with Jon-Jon Briones who plays The Engineer. It's a heavy duty for a young lady, but Eva is strong; she has a lot of will, and she is doing great.



Is it easier now than 25 years ago to find Asian talent to perform in the show?
Schönberg: Absolutely. In Asia, Miss Saigon is a huge success. So it has developed a whole generation of young performers who have realized they could make a career, either in their own country or abroad.

Will this new production go to Broadway?
Schönberg: This production is planned to go to Japan and, yes, there are also possibilities to bring it to Broadway, Australia and other major countries. The film version is also being discussed but nothing definite yet.

And, Les Miserables is currently running on Broadway.
Schönberg: This new Broadway production is the 25th anniversary one. It started on tour in the United Kingdom and the States. It was such a success that Cameron Mackintosh, our producer, decided to bring it back on Broadway, and he was right. We have a splendid cast. For example, Nikki M. James: She just has to open her mouth to be Eponine.

You are said to be working on a new version of Martin Guerre.
Schönberg: Several persons, including Cameron, have insisted that we revive Martin Guerre. Lots of people love the score, but we know some aspects of the book don't work so we have decided to reinvent the whole thing, starting from scratch. We will have some new songs but, most importantly, we will have a totally different angle on the story. I hope the new production of Martin Guerre will happen some time in 2015 or 2016, possibly in a festival such as Chichester or at the London Open Air Theatre.

[Stéphane Ly-Cuong is a Paris-based freelance writer and director (stephane.lycuong@gmail.com).]