Many of the aspiring actors and singers in the University of Virginia’s departments of Drama and Music can trace the roots of their passion for musical theater back to the cast recordings of “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon” that they memorized growing up.Many of them maintain vivid memories from the stage productions of those award-winning musicals that they attended with their parents.None of them, it is safe to say, envisioned getting the opportunity to rehearse with and perform in front of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the creators of the plays that in decades of productions remain worldwide hits.For three days last week, however, the acclaimed duo served at UVA as artists-in-residence, holding workshops and fielding scores of questions about their theatrical creations and their composition and libretto-writing experiences.Their visit was supported by funded by the Arts Endowment, a permanent fund established in 2014 to expand, improve and promote excellence in the arts at the University, and was co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Vice Provost for the Arts, the Department of Drama and the Department of Music.
To be able to interact with them in that way, it was so interesting to hear where their initial interests in musical theater and music came from.”Boublil, a lyricist, and Schönberg, a composer, collaborated to open “Les Mis” in Paris in 1980.
Five years later, it was introduced on the London stage, where it became a smash hit, and then a worldwide phenomenon.
The musical has been seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries and performed in 22 different languages, and has received more than 140 major theater awards, as well as three Academy Awards for its 2012 movie production. Their musical “Miss Saigon,” first performed in London in 1989 and on Broadway in 1991, returned to Broadway this month following a successful new production in London. Their other major works together include the rock opera “La Révolution Française” (1973), “Martin Guerre” (1996), “The Pirate Queen” (2006) and “Marguerite” (2008).
Schönberg said he was inspired to retell Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” when he happened to see a photograph of a Vietnamese mother leaving her child at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base – the “ultimate sacrifice,” Schönberg thought, of giving up her daughter so that her American ex-G. They are working together currently on a revised version of “Martin Guerre.” Last year, they were honored at a New York Pops gala concert in Carnegie Hall, celebrating their 40-year collaboration.“The scope of their experience is so impressive, and they generously gave of their time, engaging with students and faculty in all areas of study, from stage to film and from composition to performance,” said drama department chair Colleen Kelly.
During their time on Grounds, Boublil and Schönberg discussed their efforts to bring “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon” to life on stage.
They also shared their thoughts on musical theater today and coached student performers as they rehearsed in preparation for Thursday’s musical performance at Old Cabell.