The songwriting partnership of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg is one of the most successful in musical history. Known for his lyrical ability and conceptual prowess, Alain Boublil was born in Tunisia but relocated to Paris at 18 to study economics before beginning his music career working for a prominent publisher. It was in his first role there as A&R man that he chanced upon Claude-Michel Schonberg, a Brittany-born composer of Hungarian parentage who started writing and performing pop songs at university. While he only enjoyed minor success with his first efforts and had no legal representation that, all changed when he was assiduously tracked down by Boublil in 1968, who was keen to add the writer of Patricia's 1968 radio hit 'Tous Les Jours A Quatre Heures' to his repertoire. The pair soon discovered they had a lot in common: bot their parents had emigrated to France, both had studied the same subject at college, yet neither wished to work in banking. While Schonberg would prove a crucial conduit to another key part of Boublil's early life, introducing him to Francoise Pourcel, the daughter of his conductor boss Frank Pourcel and soon Boublil's first wife, their friendship never broached the topic of working together in a more collaborative sense. Instead they talked, often and at length, about popular music, finding a rare common ground that few others seemed to share.
That changed for the good after Boublil paid a working visit to New York in 1972. Thoroughly enraptured by a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, he rekindled his long-dormant ambition to tell a grand musical story. By the time he returned home he was figuring out how to turn the overriding tale of the French Revolution into a narrative that would engage with the masses. Having confessed his intentions to Raymond Jeannot, he was initially surprised when his old friend suggested Schönberg should write the music; seemingly oblivious to the fact he had been itching to work with Boublil. Much of 1973 was sent writing, amending and rewriting their first musical La Revolution Française, the pair becoming almost inseparable as they strived to dramatize Boublil's exacting story in song. Alongside songwriter Jean-Max Riviere, known for his perspicuous lyrics for Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Greco and Françoise Hardy, they pieced together the 24 tracks in the studio that ultimately turned into the double-album La Revolution Française. The collection became an overnight sensation when the musical opened to standing ovations in Paris, with Schönberg fulfilling his thespian aspirations onstage in the role of Louis XVI. A year later Schönberg was bemoaning the fate of the many songs he'd written that had gone unsung when Boublil countered with the simple suggestion, 'Why don't you sing them yourself"' A reluctant performer at the best of times, Schönberg gradually acceded to the overtures of producers Pourcel and Boublil, and was rewarded with astonishing sales of over 850,000 copies for 1974's debut Le Premier Pas, an album stayed at number one on the French charts for 16 weeks.
Both men were working on separate projects when Boublil came up with the idea of adapting novelist Victor Hugo's Les Misérables for the theatre. Schönberg jumped at the opportunity, leaving his job so that he could totally immerse himself in writing its score. An adaptation that fully took off once it was translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer and premiered by The Royal Shakespeare Company at London's Barbican Theatre in 1985, it snowballed into a true theatrical phenomenon whose success meant its creators never need work again. Not only is it the world's longest running international musical, seen by more than 54 million worldwide, it also amassed over 50 major theatre awards including two Grammies and numerous cast recordings.
Even though the pressure was off the pair were unable to resist the lure of working together, looking to Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly as the inspiration for their next stage musical. The tragic tale of a doomed romance between an Asian woman and her American lover Miss Saigon first opened in London late 1989 and reaffirmed the potent power of their creative partnership, their mantelpiece buckling under a weight of awards that included three Tonys and two Olivier's. Both decided to pursue their own passions afterwards, Boublil notably writing the play Le Journal d'Adam et Eve, before their fourth outing for the musical stage. Loosely based on a real-life historical figure forced into an arranged marriage, Martin Guerre opened in London in 1996 and toured the UK before transferring to the States. While it was rewarded with the Best Musical at the 1997 Laurence Olivier Awards it was unable to match the world-beating success of its two predecessors. Its relative failure possibly rests on its less emotive story arc,
nonetheless it was cushioned by the worldwide success of 2012's movie adaptation of Les Misérables which comfortably broke the highest opening day gross for a musical film in both Britain and the United States on the way to winning several major awards. The addition of the brand new, lullaby like 'Suddenly' also earned Boublil and Schönberg a fresh Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
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