×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jeanne La Pucelle

What's startling about "Jeanne La Pucelle" (Joan the Maid) is how much of it actually works, given a relatively inexperienced songwriting team, small-time local producers and the casting of a lead actress unknown and untried in musical theater: This act of sheer chutzpah also includes a C$4.5 million ($3 million) budget, as well as the contributions of award-winning designer Ming Cho Lee, director Martin Charnin and choreographer Michele Assaf, all lured north to help get this Quebec-born musical about Joan of Arc off the ground. There is a lot still to do here, from new choreography and the reworking of some awkward scenes, to the elimination of at least one embarrassingly bad song ("Frenchie-Wenchie Poos," which is as nauseating as its title); and if the show goes on to New York as planned, there will also have to be some re-casting.

With:
Cast: Marc Poulin (Pierre Cauchon), Simon Fournier (Archbishop of Reims), Richard Jutras (Captain de la Tremouille), Rene Simard (Charles VII), Lorraine Fontaine (Isabeau de Baviere), Carmin Ferlan (Yolande d'Aragon), Judith Berard (Jeanne), Daniel Lafleche (Jacques d'Arc), Nancy Helms (Isabel Romee), Patrick Olafson-Henault (Pierre d'Arc), Frayne McCarthy (The Bishop's Apprentice/Exorcist), Richard Groulx (The Duke of Bedford), Georges Evans (William Lasdale), Pierre Benard (The Duke d'Alencon), Pierre Poulin (Captain de Baudricourt), Rick Miller (John of Talbot), Peter Zinko (La Hire), Sylvain Scott (The Mayor of Troyes); Norman-Robert Boie, Lisa Forget, Marie-Josee Gagnon, Jason Knight, O'Neill Langlois, Rene Lapointe, Eve Montpetit, Michel Perron, Roxanne Potvin, Nathalie Simard, Barbara Stead.

Composer Peter Sipos, an expatriate Hungarian with rock music roots, has put together a score which is at its worst palatable and at its best catchy and hummable. There have been stronger scores (Toronto’s failed “Napoleon” comes to mind), but on the whole it is smooth and varied enough to carry the show, with occasional numbers of real substance. And while there is no blockbuster in the first act, Sipos does build to three gorgeous ones in the second, culminating in “I Hear No Voices,” a heartfelt agony of frustration delivered by Rene Simard as the Dauphin.

Lyricist Vincent De Tourdonnet has been writing for the musical theater for about a dozen years, but this is his first stab at something major and it shows in some awkward dialogue and song lyrics. But here again, there is more good than bad in an impressive first attempt at a mostly sung-through musical.

What’s missing in this story is the sense of menace that Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg built into both “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon.” This flaw is particularly apparent in Joan’s famous trial scene, where direction, set design and choreography combine to create almost total disaster. Black-robed monks flit around like bats and Ming Cho Lee’s otherwise gorgeous set of bleak soaring walls (heightened at times with a huge, stained glass disc and a medieval tapestry) takes a misstep with a giant, overbearing, crucifix that descends over Joan’s head.

In fact, Assaf’s choreography is a major problem — her work is uninteresting, and intrusive rather than stimulating. What saves the trial scene is Judith Berard’s intensely focused and powerful performance as Joan and Marc Poulin’s meaty Bishop. Together they move beyond the limitations of their creative team to stir the pot of pathos and defiance, so much so that Joan’s burning (a bit too hastily dispatched for the crisis point of an entire musical) has the power to move. It helps that the fire is uncomfortably realistic.

Berard is not the strongest of singers, and her voice tends to strain toward the show’s final half hour, but her acting combines a vulnerability and innocence that transmits an utterly compelling sincerity. Rene Simard’s Charles is less convincing, but in their scenes alone together there is some lovely work and he has a good voice. De Tourdonnet also has written some gentle, affectionate ribbing between Joan and Charles that breaks through the symbolism of their roles to reveal two troubled and very human creatures.

There are other performances of note, including Patrick Olafson-Henault as Jeanne’s devoted brother, Richard Jutras as the army captain and Peter Zinko as Jeanne’s great warrior La Hire, although he is hampered by both a costume and hairdo that make him look like rock singer Meat Loaf, and stage business (biting off the head of a chicken) that places him more comfortably in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” than a serious musical.

What’s especially intriguing about “Jeanne La Pucelle” is how clearly it is fueled by a Quebecois vision of French/English relations; several speeches, about resolving conflict even as the English stand by ready to invade, seem eerily reflective of Canada’s continuing problems. Perhaps the inclusion of “Frenchie-Wenchie Poos,” which makes a laughingstock of the British court, is a direct result of provincial sensibilities.

Such elements might not translate to American audiences, but they do add a piquant air to the production. And even though the second act turns from politics toward Joan’s personal travails, the depiction of the Church, the determination of the English and the deep faith of the French in their unlikely heroine infuses “Jeanne La Pucelle” with a vigor and commitment that bodes well for its future development.

Popular on Variety

Jeanne La Pucelle

MONTREAL

Production: An Allan Sandler and Guy Cloutier presentation, in association with Larry Wexler and Sydney Aptacker, of a musical in two acts with book and lyrics by Vincent De Tourdonnet and music by Peter Sipos. Directed by Martin Charnin. Associate director, Francois Racine; choreography, Michele Assaf; musical direction and vocal arrangements, Albin Konopka; French translation, Antonine Maillet; set, Ming Cho Lee.

Creative: Costumes, Jean Blanchette; lighting, Ken Billington; sound, T. Richard Fitzgerald; orchestrations, Douglas L. Besterman. Opened Feb. 12, 1997, at Place des Arts, Theatre Maisonneuve. Reviewed Feb. 15; 1,435 seats; C$70.50 ($53) top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 40 MIN. Musical numbers: "Deathbed of Charles VI," "Put an End to the Fighting," "Fly Now Away," "All of France and England," "When It's Right," "Jeanne La Pucelle," "Jeanne's Arrival," "The Face of a King," "Break the Silence," "Frenchie-Wenchie Poos," "Daughter of God," "I Am La Hire," "The Battle of Orleans," "Angelique," "One Authority Reprise," "The Coronation," "The Army Is Disbanded," "Am I With You?," "The Peasant's Prayer," "Confrontation," "Your Faith in Me," "I Hear No Voices," "Capture Sequence," "A Beautiful Trial," "The Trial Sequence," "The Relapse," "Words (The Burning)," "Finale --- There Is Only Silence."

Cast: Cast: Marc Poulin (Pierre Cauchon), Simon Fournier (Archbishop of Reims), Richard Jutras (Captain de la Tremouille), Rene Simard (Charles VII), Lorraine Fontaine (Isabeau de Baviere), Carmin Ferlan (Yolande d'Aragon), Judith Berard (Jeanne), Daniel Lafleche (Jacques d'Arc), Nancy Helms (Isabel Romee), Patrick Olafson-Henault (Pierre d'Arc), Frayne McCarthy (The Bishop's Apprentice/Exorcist), Richard Groulx (The Duke of Bedford), Georges Evans (William Lasdale), Pierre Benard (The Duke d'Alencon), Pierre Poulin (Captain de Baudricourt), Rick Miller (John of Talbot), Peter Zinko (La Hire), Sylvain Scott (The Mayor of Troyes); Norman-Robert Boie, Lisa Forget, Marie-Josee Gagnon, Jason Knight, O'Neill Langlois, Rene Lapointe, Eve Montpetit, Michel Perron, Roxanne Potvin, Nathalie Simard, Barbara Stead.

More Legit

  • The Inheritance review

    Broadway Review: 'The Inheritance'

    The real hero of “The Inheritance,” Matthew Lopez’s thoughtful, moving and painfully funny play, is E.M. Forster, the celebrated English author of “Howards End,” “A Room with a View,” “A Passage to India,” and “Maurice,” that last a gay-themed novel published after his death in 1970. It’s quite the literary thrill to find the great [...]

  • Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works

    Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works as a Movie From Heyday, BBC Films

    David Heyman’s Heyday Films, whose credits include “Gravity,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story” and the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and BBC Films have secured the film rights to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical “Follies.” “Follies” will be adapted for the screen and directed by Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier [...]

  • Tina Turner The Musical

    How 'Tina: The Tina Turner Musical' Tells the Icon's Traumatic Story

    It wasn’t the response Tali Pelman had hoped to receive. The group creative managing director of Stage Entertainment had traveled to Küsnacht, Switzerland, with one goal in mind: Convince Tina Turner that her life could be the stuff of a successful stage musical. “We walked in the door,” Pelman remembers. “Tina was already there, and she greeted [...]

  • Ben McKenzie

    'Gotham' Star Ben McKenzie to Make Broadway Debut in 'Grand Horizons'

    “Gotham” star Ben McKenzie will make his Broadway debut in Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” He joins a cast that includes Oscar nominees Jane Alexander (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Great White Hope”) and James Cromwell (“Babe,” “L.A. Confidential”). The show has a strictly limited 10-week run and begins previews on Dec. 23, 2019, before officially opening [...]

  • The Great Society review

    Listen: Brian Cox on 'Succession,' Shakespeare, and the Crisis We're In

    Brian Cox is having a pop-culture moment with “Succession,” the buzzy HBO series in which he stars. But he’s also an accomplished theater actor with plenty of experience doing Shakespeare — and it serves him well in both “Succession” and in his current Broadway show, “The Great Society.” Listen to this week’s podcast below: Cox [...]

  • Scooby Doo Ella Louise Allaire Martin

    Scooby-Doo Live Theater Tour Is Goofy Dane's Latest Adventure

    From its 1969 start as a Saturday morning kids mystery cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” starring its titular, talking Great Dane and his four teenaged friends, has made adventure its staple. Once Hanna-Barbera’s successor, Warner Bros. Animation, took the leash, Scooby and company became a comic book, a board game, a series of video [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content