The real tragedy is that these two amaz­ing women fought each other

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Writer Liz Lochhead on Mary and El­iz­a­beth as stars of new movie about the Queen of Scots hit the red car­pet

Les Mis­er­ables

Fes­ti­val The­atre, Ed­in­burgh, Jan 22-Feb 16

ASco-writer of one of the most pop­u­lar mu­si­cals of all time, Claude-michel Schon­berg pays more at­ten­tion to what the pub­lic says rather than the crit­ics. Yet the man be­hind the the­atre jug­ger­naut that is Les Mis­er­ables can’t help but bris­tle at those who wish­to­haveagoatthe work of oth­ers.

As the show re­turns to Scot­land this month, a non-mu­si­cal ver­sion is cur­rently be­ing shown on BBC prime­time on Sun­day evenings.

The writer of that ver­sion, An­drew Davies, was quoted as say­ing he was res­cu­ing the 1862 Vic­tor Hugo novel from what he de­scribed as the aw­ful mu­si­cal.

“I don’t un­der­stand that mind-set,” said Clau­demichel, who cre­ated the mu­si­cal along­side fel­low French­man Alain Bou­blil. “I’ve never cre­ated some­thing in or­der to chal­lenge some­one else’s work.

“When An­drew Lloyd Web­ber was com­ing up with his Phan­tom Of The Opera, there were other ver­sions of it around at the time, but he didn’t say he was do­ing his to be bet­ter than the oth­ers. “At the be­gin­ning of our show’s run, we had the most aw­ful crit­ics in the world. “The show was ac­tu­ally saved by Bri­tish au­di­ences. “It’s amaz­ing to hear Ed­in­burgh is sold-out al­ready.

“I was in Ed­in­burgh re­cently with an­other of our shows, Miss Saigon, and it was such a won­der­ful au­di­ence.

“It’s al­ways a plea­sure to do shows for ed­u­cated au­di­ences and to have a good show you need a good au­di­ence.” Claude-michel, 73, be­gan his ca­reer as a record pro­ducer and singer, work­ing in main­stream pop. “I started in the busi­ness in 1967 for EMI,” he said. “One day Alain heard a song I wrote sung by a young girl on the ra­dio and he thought it was spe­cial, so he con­tacted me.

“We started to speak ran­domly about life and it de­vel­oped from there. “For our first show, French Rev­o­lu­tion, we had writ­ten 24 songs and when some­one asked us to put it on the stage, we had to find a way to link them to­gether to make a show.”

In­spi­ra­tion for their next pro­ject came af­ter Bou­blil saw a pro­duc­tion of Oliver! in Lon­don and com­mented to Claude-michel about all the kids run­ning around the stage.

That made Claude-michel think of the child char­ac­ter Gavroche in Les Mis­er­ables. “There had al­ready been movie ver­sions made, so we knew the story could be told in two hours and 40 min­utes,” Claude-michel con­tin­ued.

“When writ­ing the book for the mu­si­cal, I know when a song is go­ing to be sung, I know ex­actly the con­tent. So some­times I can start a song from a phrase that Alain gives me, other times it comes from know­ing the ex­act mood and what is go­ing to hap­pen on stage. “Alain and I were pop song­writ­ers pre­vi­ously and that is very im­por­tant, as some­times we need to know how to write in a dif­fer­ent style.” Claude-michel es­ti­mates he has seen 70 ver­sions of Les Mis in a va­ri­ety of medi­ums and be­lieves there are top­ics and themes from the story that con­tinue to res­onate to­day.

“I’ve seen film and TV ver­sions in Rus­sia, France, Ja­pan, Amer­ica – all over. “There is a bal­let of Les Mis­er­ables, which I would like to see.

“At the mo­ment, there is an un­of­fi­cial ver­sion of our mu­si­cal play­ing in Iran, in a 2,500-seat venue that has been sold out since Novem­ber 8.

“It has a com­plete Ira­nian cast, lots of mu­si­cians and dif­fer­ent peo­ple on stage.

“Even in Iran, af­ter it’s been through the cen­sor­ship, they can still see a show that speaks to the Ira­nian peo­ple.

“I would love to see it, but un­for­tu­nately it’s not an of­fi­cial ver­sion be­cause they haven’t paid for the rights.” More than 40 years on, Claude-michel remains hands-on.

“When it’s a ma­jor pro­duc­tion like this one, I care­fully fol­low the au­di­tions and cast­ing, some of the re­hearsals and the pre­views,” he added.

“At the point the show goes on the road, I let it go, and we have top qual­ity peo­ple in­volved in bring­ing it to Ed­in­burgh.”


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