Jean-Luc Choplin may live and work more than 3,600 miles away, but Broadway remains the music that makes him dance. In the last 13 years, at three different Parisian venues, he has successfully presented, often for the first time in France, 26 examples of the classics of American musical theatre history.
“For a genre that was not supposed to please the French people, for a genre that was considered only entertainment and not a crucial thing, I’m happy to see that the landscape has completely changed here, and I am happy to have contributed a little bit to this change,” the 69-year-old Parisian theatre producer and artistic director says.
As director general of Théâtre Marigny, just off the Champs-Élysées and not far from the Arc de Triomphe, he is continuing his mission of spreading the joy of American musical theatre to the arrondissements of Paris. Beginning November 7 he is presenting his 27th musical—for the first time in France, a new production of Funny Girl.
“I want to explore the Broadway composers,” Choplin says, “And I’ve never done anything by Jule Styne,” whose other credits include Gypsy, Bells Are Ringing and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. “I love the music of Funny Girl” - “People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “The Only Music That Makes Me Dance.”
It is of course the music, the musical, and the role that brought fame to Barbra Streisand, garnering her a Tony nomination (she lost to Carol Channing of Hello, Dolly!) and an Oscar win (she tied with Katharine Hepburn of The Lion in Winter). As with all of Choplin’s musicals, Funny Girl will be presented in English with French surtitles.
Taking on the title role as Fanny Brice is Christina Bianco, whose diva-impression videos on YouTube have garnered millions of views and whose voice has garnered her plenty of fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bianco, Choplin says, “is a perfect New York choice. She has the craziness of a Funny Girl. When she performs she is a wonderful actress, and she sings beautifully.”
Although Bianco is famous for her vocal impressions, Choplin says “she is not going to do a Barbra Streisand character. She will be herself.”
Funny Girl is of course a very American show about a beloved entertainer in vaudeville, but Choplin is not concerned about its working for Parisians. “That’s what the French people like about it,” he says. “They don’t want a French story. And it’s a universal story. It’s about becoming a star with will and determination. And it’s about the difficulties in men-women relationships. And overcoming obstacles in life. There are lessons you can take from such a musical.”
In choosing the shows he wants to present, Choplin says, “it is always music first. Then it’s the book. I love the fact that Funny Girl is not necessarily a story with a happy ending, with dramatic moments. I loved the 1968 film with Streisand. I didn’t see the original Broadway version but I saw the last production in London, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and then at the Savoy, and I thought the musical was better than the film. It has everything. It has beautiful music, it has tap dancing, it has a beautiful libretto.”
In his decade as head of Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet, where he took over in 2006, he essentially introduced Stephen Sondheim musicals to Paris, presenting five—Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, Passion, and the first Paris production of A Little Night Music. He offered a new production of An American in Paris, which went on to Broadway in 2015—with Choplin as a co-producer—and four Tony Awards.
He left Châtelet for the Seine Musicale in the Paris suburbs, and last year became director general of Théâtre Marigny, a playhouse that dates back to the 19th century and was reopening after a five-year, more than $22 million renovation, where he resumed his Broadway love story with a production of Guys and Dolls.
And the future? “I’ve decided that Théâtre Marigny is for music theatre,” he says. “I’m going to explore the possibility of having music theatre from all over the world. A place on the Champs-Élysées, a beautiful theatre on a beautiful avenue, for Parisians and also for tourists. We have roots, and all the roots are with music. Offenbach directed here for quite a long time. I want to have international ambitions. I want to co-produce, with New York, with London. I have Chinese producers coming next month to see me.
“I want to be surrounded by music.”