Dec 4th, 11th and 18th

reviewed by Patrick Honoré

The wonderful Bastien Jacquemart, currently touring in Into the Woods in the double part of the prince and the ugly sister, after having been cast as Raul in the ill-fated Parisien premiere of The Fantom of the Opera, plays an extreme right French senator during the Algerian War in 5th Republic. How is that possible! But that's what happened last Monday at Comédie Nation, celebrating the 50th edition of the Broadway au Carré series with a recreation of the France's 5th Republic with a book by Stacey Weingarten and music and lyrics by Dana Levinson, first put together at 54 Below last year.

Actually, the first draft of the musical, a retelling of Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris during the Algerian War (in the way Miss Saigon tells the story of Madame Butterfly in war torn Vietnam), was written in 2010 ,then done again for the New York Music Festival in 2011. After a little break, it was developed as part of the Dramatists Guild Fellow Program and then in Prospect Theater, all in New York City.

It's interesting in the turbulent context of France today to see this most original musical incorporating the genuine sound of Arabe percussions, as played by Thomas Ostrowiecki, and an Oud, played by the composer herself. With a talented cast including Maxime Guerville, Lissandro Neisis (the founder of Broadway au Carré), London-based Perle Solvèz, Comédie Nation-regular Manon Taris, and in the part of Layla (aka Esmerelda), promising newcomer Kaïne Blada. A large chorus called the Chœur Spotlight, directed by Pierre Babolat, also filled the stage in this concert version, aptly directed by Colton Pometta.

We all know that such a musical would never be produced in Paris because, politics notwithstanding, the Parisian audience tends to stay away from musicals either based on French patrimony (like La Cage aux Folles and Les Misérables) or celebrating Paris (like Gigi or Can-Can). The aforementioned Miss Saigon, to which 5th Republic could be paralleled, was never produced in France either, despite being a world-wide success by French composers Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil.

That's why we must be thankful for Broadway au Carré, which has for over 6 years now been instrumental in bringing to Paris works in progress by numerous contemporary Broadway and mostly off-Broadway composers, such as Dana Levinson, here for the second time. The purpose of these evening is to create a link between these composers and the thriving musical theater community in France by performing their works in English, often followed by an open mike. Long live Broadway au Carré! We can't wait for the next opus.

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From This Author Patrick Honoré

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