08 Mar The Influence of Culture in World-Famous Musicals
Musicals are a global phenomenon, mostly seen as emerging almost exclusively from Broadway and West End productions. What is the story behind some of the most successful shows? Where do their creators find inspiration? Here are the stories of some of the longest-running shows of all time.
The first ever premiere of this musical took place in Paris in September 1980. The location could come as no surprise, since it was based on the novel Les Misérables (1862), by French writer Victor Hugo.
It tells the story of Jean Valjean, on the path of redemption after having spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving sister. His journey is about adventure, love and rebellion, set in a France torn by an upcoming revolt against monarchy, which would lead to the 1832 June Rebellion and its many deaths.
First written by two Frenchmen, songwriter Alain Boublil and composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, the two-hour show premiered at the Palais des Sports. It went on for a hundred performances, seen by more than 500,000 people.
It was then translated by Herbert Kretzmer (a close collaborator of French singer Charles Aznavour), lengthened and reworked from the original version to become the three-hour-long show that is the massive success we all know today.
The opening night of this new version took place in London, in October 1985. It is still showing every day and has since been translated into 22 different languages, including Japanese, Korean and Finnish.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
This all-English production premiered in London in 1986 and had its music composed by a musical household name, Andrew Lloyd Webber (also the author of the famous, Cats).
The story is based on the French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux (1910). Set in a haunted Paris opera, a singer named Christine becomes the target of Erik, a mysterious disfigured phantom unknown to everyone.
Its success led to the American production that premiered in Broadway in 1988. It is now the second-longest running West End show and has an on-going production in Sweden and Hungary. It has been translated into 15 languages, including French, Japanese, Danish, Estonian and Korean.
It is based on an Italian opera by Giacomo Puccini, named Madame Butterfly (1904), which was based on the short story of the same name by the American writer John Luther Long, published in 1898.
Set during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, it tells the story of a doomed love story between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl, ending with her being abandoned by her lover.
Written by Frenchmen Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, this musical was an English production, which premiered in London in 1989 until 1999. A revival of the show was produced in 2014-2016 and it is now on tour in the UK. A Japanese production was created in 2012.
The inspiration for this show came from the songs of the Swedish band ABBA and is written by a British playwright Catherine Johnson. It tells the story of 20-year-old Sophie who is about to marry her fiancé, Sky, on the Greek island of Kalokairi. Willing to find out who her father is, she invites the three most probable suitors to the wedding without her mother’s knowledge.
This was an English production, which premiered in London in 1999 and has since been translated into 22 languages, including German, Norwegian, Russian, Mandarin and Icelandic. It also tours in an on-going production on the Royal Caribbean cruise!
This example is special, being a jukebox musical: its musical base is made from songs that are already known to the public and are then incorporated in a show. Other examples include Saturday Night Fever and Jersey Boys.
A light verse book called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) by the American writer T.S. Eliot was the inspiration of this fourth longest-running West End musical.
It takes place in the one-night event of the Jellicle cats’ tribe known as “the Jellicle choice”, where one of them will ascend to their heaven and come back to a new life.
The music was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, creating the song Memory; a classic sung by Barbra Streisand in her album Memories, produced by Lloyd Webber himself. The show premiered in London in 1981 and then opened in New York City in 1982.
There is currently an on-going production in Australia. This show has also been hugely popular within the Japanese culture: a Japanese production that has been playing it since 1983.
What’s more fun than watching a musical in its native tongue? Start learning the language of your favorite show now!