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Monday, 27 May 2013

"1789 : Les Amants de la Bastille" a revolutionary love story set to music

I'm not a great fan of musicals at the best of times, and even less so of French ones.

But occasionally I allow myself to be dragged along to one.

"You'll enjoy it, you'll see," friends who had seen the production of "1789 : Les Amants de la Bastille" during its first run in Paris, assured me.

"There's some great music, fine voices and the set is sumptuous. Plus you'll brush up your knowledge of French history," they insisted.

"Besides, you shouldn't be so snooty about these sort of things."

Moi? Snooty (and pretentious)? I hardly think so.

After all, I was the person who had recently seen the French version of "Mamma Mia"... and liked it.

Plus in recent years I've enjoyed the "Sound of Music", "West Side Story" and "Carousel" at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

All right, already so they were all transfers of original productions from Broadway or the West End.

And they weren't exactly in the mould of that 1998 gem "Notre Dame de Paris" described by The Independent when it opened in London as "a load of old bells" and which must surely have set the trend for the glut of French musicals that were to follow over the next decade or so.

Anyway, 1789-bound I was, even if somewhat sceptical.

Having heard some of the sound track on the radio and knowing that Louis Delort, a finalist in the first season of The Voice, had been cast in one of the lead roles, I didn't hold out much faith in my friends' first two assertions.

Louis Delort and Camille Lou (screenshot from "Tomber dans ses yeux " official video, 1789 Les Amants de la Bastille)

As for helping me make sense of a period in French history. I had my doubts.

On that count at least, I wasn't disappointed.

It was a French Disneyfying of events made palatable for everyone and accompanied by some frenzied dancing and uptempo but nonetheless uninspiring songs.

The run-up to the French revolution serves as a backdrop to a love story (what else?).

Robespierre, Danton, Marie Antoinette Louis XVI et al are all present and correct as are two fictional characters from both sides of the divide: Ronan Mazurier (Delort) for the "revolting peasants" and Olympe du Puget (Camille Lou) an under-governess at the royal court.

Delort is good, as is Lou. And... oh and look, there's another TV talent show contestant in the form of Sébastien Agius (Robespierre) who apparently won the inaugural season of the French X Factor in 2009.

They and the others belt out the tunes, helped by microphones cranked up to the max to overcome the pre-recorded intrumentals.

The music is...well, it seems as though Dove Attilla and Albert Cohen (the duo responsible for bringing us "Les 10 Commandements", "Le Roi Soleil" and most recently "Mozart l’opéra rock") have cobbled together the tracks that didn't quite make it into "Mozart".

Still, the audience seemed enthralled. Well at least those who weren't "watching" the whole thing through their smart 'phones while filming.

"Please don't use flash photography," the announcer had requested before the performance began.

"It's dangerous for the performers (huh?) and besides the stage lighting is sufficiently bright," he added, thereby making a nonsense of the sign at the entry to the venue which said "no cameras allowed".

Curtain up. Flash, flash, flash went the smartphones in a pattern which was to repeat itself every time there was a scene change.

Every song was roundly applauded. Children and adults alike texted furiously as they scoffed their popcorn and guzzled their soft drinks and I sighed, looking at my watch and wondering whether I could leave before the end.

It was...well a real treat for those who enjoy their French (musical) history served up Camembert-style.

Me? I think I'm musical-ed-out for the moment.

But if you're really keen to see what has, after all, been a huge success in France, "Les Amants" continues its nationwide tour with stopovers in Montpellier, Nice and Marseille before returning to Paris in November.

And then at the beginning of 2014 it'll be on the road again.

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