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Recent Theater: Paris
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red
La Belle Hélène - Menilmontant

Travel for us always includes musical theater if possible.

The obvious show to see in Paris would be Les Misérables. No such luck. The 25th anniversary tour closed in July. And no other shows by Claude-Michel Schönberg being performed, as near a we could tell. But here’s what we found.

1.      How to Become Parisian in One Hour – one man show (with plants in the audience) starring Olivier Giraud. This show was written for English-speaking tourists, but seems to have developed a local following. It’s a humorous look at Parisian attitudes to their own society and toward tourists, performed in English. It was fun, and played to a packed house.

2.      Showboat – Paris is an interesting place to go and see an 80 year old American operetta. I had never seen a full-scale professional production of it. They performed it in the original language, but provided projected subtitles, so it was no problem. The fact that Theatre Chatelet put this Capetown Opera production on their schedule is significant. It recognizes the show as an international classic. It also states that this odd operetta that tackled social justice issues as an evening’s entertainment still has something to say — with some updating. South African portrayal of black characters was different than an American production would be; they did not shy away from using Hammerstein’s original lyric for the opening chorus — and the accents sounded more Caribbean than Louisianan. Perhaps that dialect bears more relevance to the French audience? Queenie’s character was modified slightly to give her superstition African/voodoo roots. And the Chicago World’s Fair scene included an African tribal dance/production number.

3.      Organ recital at Notre Dame. The cathedral has a series of free 45-minute recitals. We were able to schedule our de rigueur visit to coincide with it. It was too late in the day to climb up the tower (closed at 5 PM), but afterward we toured the interior. As we were leaving mass was starting. The Celebrant performing the mass was magnificent; the effect in that setting, haunting.

4.      La Belle Hélène — John dug deep on the internet and found an Offenbach production during our visit — something I dearly wanted to see. The Théâtre de Ménilmontant production we saw was a “young professional” company. Acting: excellent; singing: very good; staging/direction: excellent (borrowing a few ideas from Pelly); costumes: tolerable; choreography: adequate with a few clever bits; music: one piano. A well-played piano, but it came off as weak for the big finish needed for finales. A very fun production, definitely off the beaten track for tourists. It was held in a very plain movie theater that seemed to date from the 20s to a packed house. All in French of course, no subtitles. We missed most of the jokes, but we know the show well enough that we had trouble following the story.

And yes, we caught all this in a week.



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