- - Monday, March 23, 2015

Alain Boublil was living in Paris in 1968 working at a music publishing firm and looking for new talent when he became intrigued by “Tous le jours a quatre heures,” a pop song playing on France’s Radio Europe 1. He arranged to meet the composer, Claude-Michel Schonberg, they signed a deal, and 40 years later, they are the world’s foremost musical collaborators, with “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon” regularly on stages throughout the world.

“Our partnership was destined to be,” Mr. Boublil said. “My lyrics wouldn’t be the same without Claude-Michel’s music. We discovered early that we could only work by unanimous decisions. That was the key. Over the years, we have become close friends and found more and more in common, from family and education to every aspect of life.”

This week, the Kennedy Center hosts “Do You Hear the People Sing,” a celebration of their beloved shows backed by the National Symphony Orchestra and led by NSO Pops conductor Steven Reineke. Featured artists include Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, Terrence Mann, Eric Kunze, Kathy Voytko and Marie Zamora. All belong to the large family of singers who crafted “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon,” “The Pirate Queen,” “Martin Guerre” and “La Revolution Francaise” into theatrical masterpieces.

And a family it is. Many who originated major roles a decade or more ago have repeated them. Miss Zamora, the original Cosette in the Paris production of “Les Miserables,” also has sung such principal roles as Kate in “Kiss Me, Kate.” She is now married to Mr. Boublil, the librettist and lyricist.

“The film [of “Les Miserables”] was a real learning experience,” Mr. Boublil said. “We had to rewrite the show into a movie and made the difficult decision to record the songs live.” The new song written for the film, “Suddenly,” was nominated for an Academy Award.

Colm Wilkinson, Jean Valjean in the original Broadway cast, was in the recent film as the Bishop of Digne. Peter Lockyer, who played Marius on Broadway and Jean Valjean and Javert in separate productions that visited Washington, is currently Jean Valjean on London’s West End.”Les Miserables” first opened in Paris and was sung in French, but it was not long before theater producer Cameron Mackintosh persuaded Mr. Boublil and Mr. Schonberg to develop an English libretto. In 1985, the show opened on London’s West End. The next year, it played in Washington before heading to Broadway and becoming one of the most successful musicals of all time. The theater version has been sung in many other languages too.

“I was a young student walking the streets of New York one evening when it came to me that writing a musical about the French Revolution was an exciting idea,” Mr. Boublil said of the show’s origins. “I realized that it happened because the young people took to the streets and made the revolution. Claude loves opera and writes for symphony orchestras, so in that one night I could see that singing their story was a much better way than writing hundreds of pages to show the love, hope and distress those young people shared.”

Lea Salonga and Eric Kunze, original stars of “Miss Saigon,” will perform their numbers from that show during the Boublil and Schonberg celebration. Miss Salonga has grown from her professional debut as the young Vietnamese Kim in “Miss Saigon” to Eponine in the 10th anniversary production of “Les Miserables” on Broadway and then to the older Fantine in the 25th anniversary show in London. (Disney fans may be familiar with her voice as Jasmine in “Aladdin” and Fa Mulan in “Mulan.”)

Mr. Kunze has been a stage idol ever since his Broadway debut as Marius opposite Lea Salonga. His roles since have included the Prince in “The Little Mermaid,” Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees,” Teen Angel in “Grease,” Che in “Evita” and the title roles in “Pippin,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Still another treat during the evening will be Kathy Voytko singing numbers from “The Pirate Queen,” the Boublil-Schonberg musical about Grace O’Malley — the Irish folklore heroine opposing Queen Elizabeth I — which opened on Broadway in 2007.

Broadway regular Terrence Mann will reprise favorite numbers he sang as Inspector Javert in the original Broadway cast of “Les Miserables,” a role that earned him his first Tony nomination for best actor in a leading role.

The featured soloists will be backed by the voices of the University of Maryland Concert Choir and the Children’s Chorus of Washington.

Claude-Michel and I are excited about returning to the Kennedy Center, where ‘Les Miserables’ first opened in this country,” Mr. Boublil said. “Steven Reineke has such charisma and enthusiasm when he speaks to the audience, and that is important because, between numbers, he will explain the story behind each and how it fits into the musical where it is featured. It will be a wonderful concert.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: National Symphony Orchestra Pops: “Do You Hear the People Sing,” a celebration of the musicals of Boublil & Schonberg conducted by Steven Reineke

WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall

WHEN: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.

INFO: Tickets $10 to $85 by calling 202/467-4600 or 800/444-1324, or by visiting Kennedy-Center.org

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