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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.”