Alain Boublil has had a phenomenal impact on the world of musical theatre. The celebrated lyricist and librettist was born in Tunisia to a Sephardic Jewish family who had previously emigrated from Egypt. He escaped the small town life when he moved to Paris, aged 18, to study Economics at the Institute of Higher Commercial Studies. He lived in a very cheap, small student house in the fourteenth district, and during the first week made the decision to circumnavigate the whole of Paris on foot, discovering every district for himself. Boublil felt a little out of place at the elitist establishment, where he rubbed shoulders with the sons of champagne barons and the heir to the King of Thailand, and his interest in the subject was quickly overtaken by the 60s pop revolution. Boublil made a big decision once he finished his degree: to enter the music industry. While his parents had expected him to apply for a job in a bank he headed straight to the radio station Europe 1. Soon he was enjoying a career at the heart of pop culture, working as an A&R man for a publishing company.
It was in that role that he first encountered his future musical collaborator Claude-Michel Schönberg. He was driving across Paris in 1968 with the radio tuned to Europe 1 when he fell in love with a catchy pop song called 'Tous Les Jours A Quatre Heures' performed by young female singer Patricia. Boublil wasted little time in tracking down the song's composer via its label EMI and quickly secured the publishing rights. The tipping point for the next phase of his career happened during a working visit to New York in 1972. After being blown away by a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar his ambition to tell a grand story via words and music began to crystallise. Boublil pounded the streets of New York all night as ideas raged through his head, and by the morning he had found his subject: the French Revolution. When he returned to Paris he let slip his ambitious plan to old friend, Raymond Jeannot, who insisted that Schönberg was the perfect partner to compose the classical music the work demanded.
The pair worked diligently and quickly together on La Révolution Française which became the first ever staged French rock opera in 1973 when it premiered at Paris's Palais de Sports. The story of a doomed love affair between lowly shopkeeper's son Charles Gauthier and aristocrat Isabelle de Montmorency as the French Revolution raged, Schönberg even took to the stage to play Louis XVI while the accompanying double album became an overnight success. It was a small teardrop in the ocean compared to their next world-straddling creation, Les Misérables. Another script that looked back to the 19th century revolutionary period for inspiration, the lurid Victorian melodrama initially opened in Paris for a short three-month run in 1980. It reopened in the French capital in 1991 after British producer Cameron Mackintosh proved instrumental in creating an English language version in conjunction with The Royal Shakespeare Company. Directed by Trevor Nunn, the opening night of Les Misérables at London's Barbican Theatre on October 8th 1985 was a revelation, as a rousing 10-minute standing ovation roared out as the actors took their bows. The show has steamrolled all in its wake since, becoming the longest-running musical in West End history. It opened on Broadway in 1987, winning its creators two Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book, plus a Grammy for Best Original Broadway Cast Recording. In December 2012 the long awaited big screen version finally arrived starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert and Anne Hathaway as Fantine.
Schönberg and Boublil's next venture Miss Saigon told the tale of another doomed romance, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, but relocated the action to 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War. The reception was explosive after it opened in London and New York in 1989, playing for over a decade in each city and winning several international awards. The 16th century tale of Martin Guerre followed and won the 1997 Olivier Award for Best Musical.
Aside from his work with Schönberg, Boublil wrote the fairy tale musical ABBAcadabra. Based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA, it was produced for French television channel TF1 in 1983 and later yielded the soundtrack album ABBAcadabra: Conte musical. A West End version, starring Elaine Page, premiered on December 8th 1983 at London's Lyric Theatre and played to full houses throughout its two-month run. Boublil has also written the play The Diary Of Adam And Eve, based on two short stories by Mark Twain, and published his first novel in 2002, Les Dessous De Soi, a book that scooped the Prince Maurice du Roman d'Amour. In 2003, in collaboration with celebrated French composer Michel Legrand, Boublil wrote the stage adaptation of Jacques Demy's film Les Demoiselles de Rochefort that proved a success on the Paris stage during 2003/2004, if not quite on the grand scale of his dramatic feats with Schönberg. Boublil lives in London with his second wife, singer Marie Zamora.
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