Musical theatre has always been an American art form, only in the past 40 years have British composers (particularly Andrew Lloyd Webber) contributed to the literature with some significant shows. It is a surprise then, to note that two of the most important musicals of the late ’80s and early ‘90s was written by a French composer. Claude-Michel Schonberg’s 1987 show, Les Miserables, was the story of the French Revolution at the beginning of the 19th century, based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. In an epic fashion, with heroes and villains, tragedy, loss, love, and ultimately revolution, audiences had no problem connecting with the story of triumphant spirits in the face of oppression. After opening in London, the New York production sold $11 million in advance tickets before the first of 6,680 curtains.
Schonberg followed Les Miserables four years later with his story of love at the end of the Viet Nam war – Miss Saigon. As Jonathan Larson did five years later with Rent, Schonberg started with a story borrowed from classic opera, in this case, Madame Butterfly. After adjusting and altering the story line, introducing new characters, changing the location (Saigon at the end of the Viet Nam war),and crafting new music, lyrics and dialogue, Schonberg and his lyricist Alain Boublil created Miss Saigon in 1989. While the success was not as great as Les Miserables, Miss Saigon opened on Broadway and ran for over 4,000 performances. Like Les Miserables, touring companies and regional and global productions have taken Miss Saigon to millions of audience members.