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“Les Miserables” creators testing English version of French Revolution musical in Chicago

In 1971, a French lyricist by the name of Alain Boublil visited New York and saw the Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He was knocked out by it. Two years later, in collaboration with composer Claude-Michel Schonberg, he wrote what is considered to be the first French rock opera, “La Revolution Francaise” (“The French Revolution”), a concept album that became a full-fledged musical, and debuted in 1973.

Fast forward to 1980, and another concept album by the pair of Schonberg-Boublil was released – a little show by the name of “Les Miserables.” By 1985 it, too, had been turned into a full-fledged musical, and became one of the most enduring and widely seen productions of recent decades.

With all that in mind, there should be no shortage of interest in the concert reading of “La Revolution Francaise” to be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 28 at the historic Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Though it is being billed as “a new musical,” it is more accurately the world premiere of an English adaptation of the book and lyrics crafted by the Chicago-based writer, musician, actor, and Jeff Award-winning Northwestern alum Michael Mahler (whose own new musical, “October Sky,” is now in its world premiere, through Oct. 18, at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire).

Historic Thalia Hall, in the Pilsen neighborhood, where “La Revolution Francaise” will receivin a concert reading on Monday night.
Historic Thalia Hall, in the Pilsen neighborhood, where “La Revolution Francaise” will receivin a concert reading on Monday night.

Written by the the Tony Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated writing team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (“Les Misérables,” “Miss Saigon”), with additional music by Raymond Jeannot, and original French text by Boublil and Jean-Max Riviere, this concert reading is being produced and presented by The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University, and the FWD (Forward) Theatre Project, the Chicago-bred operation devoted to the creation and showcasing of new musicals.

Set amid the French Revolution, the story, imagined on an epic scale, centers on the impossible love between Charles Gauthier and Isabelle de Montmorency. Gauthier is the son of a shopkeeper who becomes a member of the Tiers-État (“Third Estate” or “common people”); Isabelle is an aristocrat who is forced to flee with the royal family. The score combines sounds of both symphonic and rock music.

The workshop process for this concert involved Northwestern faculty, 10 professional and 23 Northwestern undergraduate actors and many other major Chicago talents, including director David H. Bell and music director Robert Duchak. Boublil, Schönberg and Mahler were in residence at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus for more than a week.

According to Amber Mak, artistic director of FWD Theater, “Thalia Hall is a beautiful, historic concert hall, and the ideal location in which to imagine the full potential of this soaring new musical.”

Tickets ($15) to the concert reading of “La Révolution Française” can be purchased by visiting http://www.LRFChicago.org. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for drinks before the concert reading.