Two former Eponines from the 1991 Paris production of Boublil and Schonberg's Les Miserables are currently starring in two different musicals in Paris.
Canadian performer Stephanie Martin created the role of Eponine in Montreal and Paris. She then performed the role in the London production opposite Ruthie Henshall's Fantine. Martin has a huge following among Miz fans thanks to her outstanding recorded performance on the French double-CD set. She is currently on the same stage upon which she played Eponine, the Theatre Mogado, playing the role of Germaine in a musical about the life of Picasso called La vie en bleu.
Les Miserables was Martin's first musical theatre experience. Prior to that, she worked mainly as a pop singer in Montreal. Martin is one of the rare performers to have created and sang the roles in two languages, French and English. Asked if she prefers one or the other version, Martin says "it's easier to sing in English because the sounds are more percussive. It sells, it's easy, it just comes out of you. In French, it's however a little bit more poetic, a little bit more deep, subtle in texture. . . So for different reasons, I like them both."
The role of Eponine, which brought Martin to the stages of three big cities, drew her a lot of fans. "The fans fell in love with Eponine and I think that's universal. I think Eponine touched people in a very sensitive place. People in Paris and in Montreal still write to me. They still hear her singing and her suffering and her true valiant effort to be loved and to love. That's something human and universal. And for that reason, she is one of the most successful characters in the musical theatre today, I think.
Asked if it's not too depressing to die every night on stage, Martin answers "it wasn't depressing to play. It was a sort of deliverance actually to die every night. . . and especially to die in the arms of someone as talented as Jerome Pradon who is a beautiful man, and I'm lucky to have him as one of my friends. There was a feeling of wholeness. . . That was Eponine's life- - she lived completely and she loved completely." When asked if she would consider reprising the role again, Martin says "I would do it again but on Broadway. One of my dreams is to get to Broadway." But London might once again be the next city where Martin will perform. After completing her London engagement as Eponine, Martin performed in Toronto in an original Canadian creation called Napoleon, starring Pradon in the title role. She later married the lyricist, Andrew Sabiston. And now, the creative team of this ambitious musical is trying to bring it to the West End. "They're working very hard on making it happen. It's a very difficult business and it's millions of dollars and pounds and francs and marks. . . It's very heavy to put together a major musical these days. . .Napoleon is a major big musical. It's epic. So it might not be the right time for its expression to come to the forefront, but who knows ?"
Playbill On-Line also met Barbara Scaff who was a swing and an Eponine understudy in the French production of Les Miserables. For the past four years, she has starred in Roger Louret's musical revues called Les Annees Twist and Les Annees Zazous. Both are nostalgia compilations of songs from the World War II era (for Zazous) and the 50's and 60's (for Twist). Scaff has now become a star of her own, having just released her first solo single (after two singles in duet with her Twist co-star Philippe Candelon) and waiting for the January release of the CD she recorded with Candelon, including solos and duets. She is now back in Les Annees Twist, on the stage of the Folies Bergere, in the role that made her popular to the large audiences.
New Jersey born Scaff came to Paris for a junior-year-abroad program while studying at Northwestern University in Chicago. Since then she has traveled back and forth between the States and France. She was working with the group Urban Sax when she first heard about Les Miserables in Paris. "I just got back from Japan with them when I heard about Les Miserables. I ended up being the only American in the show and it was a dream come true. I had no idea what the show was about. I'd never seen the show before and then I found out we were going to work with John Caird. And when I was in high school, Nicholas Nickleby was the big thing and I got to see it. It was the most moving, important inspirational theatre piece I'd ever seen in my whole life. And here I was working with the guy who put that together. I couldn't believe it."
One year after the 7-months run of Les Miserables, Scaff got involved with Les Annees Twist, a musical that started small but ended up being one of the biggest musical hits of the past seasons. Scaff explains, "Les Annees Twist was picked up by Gerard Louvain after its run at the Palais des Sports to go to the Folies Bergere. Louvain, who is also a TV producer, decided to do a special Annees Twist TV show where we did excerpts from the show, and they broke the bank, they had like nine million people who watched it. We were only supposed to go 30 performances but we kept having the run extended and we won the Moliere Award for Best Musical..."
After her stint in Les Annees Twist, Scaff's next project will be Louret's new show based on songs from the 70's and 80's. "I'm going to be involved in the creation of [the] 70's and 80's show. I was involved in Les Annees Zazous but not in the creation of it. And I miss creating things, it's my favourite part of working with Roger, it's an experience that you don't get anywhere else. Everything is normally done when you come into a show, you just learn your part and you do it. So this new project is very exciting."
Scaff's voice can currently be heard by American audiences in the Calamity Jane Warner Bros' cartoon as Calamity Jane. "It's a wonderful accident. When Jennifer Jason Leigh originally did the voice in Los Angeles, the images hadn't been done yet. And then about two weeks before air time, they realized that her voice . . .sounded too girlie and too young. It had nothing to do with what they had drawn. . .The only recourse they had was to find somebody here in Paris. And I got picked! It's usually shown on Saturday mornings on the Warner Bros channel . . . It's a really neat series and I think it teaches kids a lot of good values."
Her dream roles for the future ? "I would kill to play Nancy in Oliver!. That is the role of my dreams. I would love to play Eponine somewhere again and if I'm not too small to play Fantine some time, that would be a big challenge. There's a billion roles out there that I'd love to play !"
For tickets and information on La vie en bleu with Stephanie Martin at the Theatre Mogador, call 331 53 32 32 00. Runs until Jan. 3.
For tickets and information on Les Annees Twist with Barbara Scaff at the Folies Bergere, call 331 44 79 98 98. Runs until Jan. 4. You can also visit the Folies Bergere web site at http://www.foliesbergere.com
-- By Stephane Ly-Cuong