Broadway tuner “The Pirate Queen” may have gone down with all hands, but two of the crew have survived: Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg are back. Together with helmer Jonathan Kent, they have written the book to the new musical “Marguerite,” which will be produced by Marguerite Prods., Theater Royal Haymarket Company and Bob Boyett, with previews beginning May 7 ahead of a May 20 opening.
Despite giving the world plenty to hum along to in “Les Miz” and “Miss Saigon” (as well as the less-than-memorable “Martin Guerre”), this time the duo has handed lyrics over to Herbert Kretzmer, and composing duties — along with top billing — to three-time Oscar winner Michel Legrand.
Judging by extended excerpts performed live at last week’s launch, Legrand’s typically lush, undulating score is filled with his bittersweet trademark. He wrings emotion through melodies made up of cunningly repeated phrases anchored to downward harmonic progressions. Think of his work for “The Windmills of Your Mind,” and “The Go-Between” or “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”
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After five years in development, expectations are running high given that the show’s source, Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Lady of the Camellias,” inspired the George Cukor/Greta Garbo movie “Camille” as well as Verdi’s “La traviata.”
As Kent explained to Variety, the tale of love and betrayal has been given increased jeopardy thanks to its relocation to WWII Paris under Nazi occupation. Marguerite (Ruthie Henshall) is now the mistress of a high-ranking Nazi officer (Alexander Hanson, recently the flagrantly anti-Nazi Captain von Trapp in Jeremy Sams‘ “The Sound of Music”). As she sings in her rueful second act number “How Did I Get to Where I Am”: “I never asked what badge they wore/ They left their passports at the door …”
The show’s other serious plus is the return to the London stage of Julian Ovenden, who, when not making his Broadway debut in “Butley” has been busy onscreen on both sides of the Atlantic. A classically trained tenor who shot to U.K. fame in his West End debut as Frank in Michael Grandage‘s Oliver-winning revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” Ovenden is also an excellent pianist. All of that will come in handy in this adaptation, in which Marguerite’s young lover Armand is a jazz pianist.
London lauds legit
Speaking of musicals, “Hairspray” picked up its first two London gongs this week. Leanne Jones confided to the industry audience at the Critics’ Circle Drama Awards that she was on the verge of giving up hope of ever landing a major stage role, when she was cast as Tracy Turnblad. Clutching her best newcomer award, she was joined on the podium by choreographer Jerry Mitchell, accepting the top musical prize.
Shakespeare also delivered some winners, as Chiwetel Ejiofor earned the honor of best Shakespearean performance for his incandescent portrayal of Othello, a prize he shared with Patrick Stewart for his Macbeth. The latter play also netted Rupert Goold the directing prize.
Goold’s direction had already won him the Evening Standard award in fact, — all but one of the other winners doubled up on awards from both orgs.
Polly Stenham won her second promising playwright nod for her debut, “That Face”; the Complicite show “A Disappearing Number” nabbed another top play prize; Rae Smith and Handspring Puppet Company won again for their design collaboration on the National Theater’s “War Horse”; and Anne-Marie Duff‘s commanding performance in the title role of the National’s “St. Joan” scored her another actress plaudit.
Finally, it fell to Charles Dance, actor winner for “Shadowlands,” to deliver the day’s most audacious speech. Thanking the assembled critics, he took the opportunity to provide “some perspective,” reading out highlights from some of his previous very bad reviews — even naming the critics responsible. Time will tell as to whether the shamed parties will be more cautious or more caustic toward Dance in the future.