“Come see the show,
She will neither know nor care”
It is always fascinating to listen to the cast recordings of shows that are regarded to have flopped, to see whether the writing was always on the wall or if some reason was responsible for the magic not happening. Lasting just four months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2008, Marguerite is one such musical, despite (or maybe because of) the weight of expectation behind its writing team.
With a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent (from the the Alexandre Dumas, fils’ novel La Dame aux Camélias) lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Michel Legrand, the demands on these Gallic grandees were nothing short of recreating the exceptional success of Les Misérables (on which Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer collaborated) but it wasn’t to be.
Musically speaking though, I have to say I loved this score. I’ve a flair for the French and a penchant for the mélodramatique, and so Marguerite is right up my boulevard. Legrand’s luscious orchestrations are beautifully played under John Rigby’s musical direction and there’s swooningly romantic melodies aplenty, ‘Time Was When’ is probably up there among my favourites, especially for the drama of Julian Ovenden’s intervention as Armand.
Armand is the third part of the show’s love triangle of sorts, Alexander Hanson’s Nazi general and Ruthie Henshall’s ex-singer and sympathiser – lover of the first, mistress of the second – completing the set. Lyrically, there’s a fair bit of clunkiness which might have been due to the translation but as already established, these are not inexperienced hands. Fortunately, the glory of the music and these performances elevates where necessary.
Henshall shines throughout and matches well with the vocal power of Ovenden on tracks like ‘Intoxication’, the latter impressing with his piano playing, and there’s good support from the likes of Annalene Beechey and Simon Thomas at key emotional moments. (Also nice to see recognisable names like Siubhan Harrison and Jon-Paul Hevey in the company too). The number of reprises means you can’t help but have these tunes ingrained in your mind after one listen and for that reason alone, it’s time someone put a fringe revival on tout suite. (PS I know there was one at the Tabard, I was stupidly remiss in not booking myself in).