This is the first big show put on after the Covid: this weekend, the musical “I’m going to love you”, directed by Serge Denoncourt, launched at the Zénith de Lille. A show that does not avoid certain pitfalls, but which fulfills its mission: to entertain and pay homage to the songs of Michel Sardou.
In early 2020, musical comedy projects were flourishing: “The Lion King” was planned for the end of the year at the Mogador theater, as well as the return of “starmania” orchestrated by director Thomas Jolly. And in the midst of these two colossal projects, was announced the writing of a new show, based on the songs of Michel Sardouvariety singer retired from singing since 2018.”I will love you” was then scheduled for the start of the 2021 school year.
A year and a half later,The Lion King” is about to launch in a few weeks in Paris, after two postponements; Starmania fans will have to wait another year to finally discover the new version of the show… and “I will love you”, he, is therefore the first major musical show to arrive after the pandemic. He launched last Thursday, with an originality: contrary to the norm which wants one to start in Paris before a tour, this one does the opposite, and will travel through France before landing for five weeks at the Seine Musicale de Boulogne-Billancourt in May and June 2022. The public was able to discover – with sanitary pass but without mask – the first performances at the Zénith de Lille.
The story of changing people in a changing world
“I will love you”This is the story of six childhood friends boarding the liner France in 1962, bound for the United States. There is the one, the son of industrialists and recently married, whose destiny seems to have been decided; the one who dreams of the stage and of emancipation and who intends to stay in the country of Martin Luther King to make a career; there are those who are engaged on the ship and feel a new wind coming, who have the desire for social revolution and sexual liberation. Over four decadeswe follow the paths of each other, who move away and get closer over the years, then of their children.
This gallery of characters carries a show that belongs to a very particular genre: the “musical jukebox”, a show composed of pre-existing songs. Yes “Mamma Mia“is the model of the genre, there are dozens of them on Broadway, and a few examples in France, of the very successful”resist“(on the songs of France Gall and Michel Berger) to the most hazardous”Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful“, a tribute to Claude François. Did the discography of Michel Sardou, a popular singer whose career is not free from controversy, lend itself well to this exercise?
With this show, the answer is clear: yes. By choosing to tell the epic of a band of young French people from the 60s to the 2000s, Quebecer Serge Denoncourt, director and author of the libretto, tells the story of people who change in a changing world, embodied by a troupe of young and all talented artists. The Franchouillard post-war period of “Popular balls” gives way to the American dream that takes shape in the song “Jazz Singer” for the character of Michel, dit Mike (played brilliantly by singer Hobbs), when the union anger of the sailors of France is embodied by a “I accuse” accompanied by mechanical choreography. And in the 90s, “The privilege”, the story of a coming-out difficult to do, is introduced with finesse in the show, and finds its place perfectly in the story. Unsurprisingly, Sardou’s most controversial songs are set aside.
Highlighted song lyrics
The writing of the booklet testifies to a real work on the meaning and the texts of the songs. “You have to interpret the songs, it requires a lot of reading to pay attention to what you embody, in the interpretation of the French song“, explains the singer Emji, who plays the role of Louise, a liberated woman of the 70s… before becoming an “80s woman” in a version where the names of professions are feminized. “When the song was created, words were not put in the feminine, today they are, so I made the choice to change them“, says Emji.”I thought it was important to show that we have evolved over time. And it sounded weird to me, these masculine names, especially since the song here is performed by a woman.“, she adds.
Like “Be a woman”some titles benefit from a reading or re-reading which underlines their meaning: the song “I live in France“became the anthem of jeering and somewhat arrogant French people upon their arrival in the United States – and that is precisely what it is.”The river of our childhood“, tube of Sardou in duet with Garou, takes on its full meaning when the characters of the show interpret it, motionless, black umbrellas in hand, in front of a tombstone.
And, peak of emotion of the show, “I fly” takes on a tragic dimension that neither Louane in the Bélier family, nor Michel Sardou himself (who for a long time cast doubt on the exact meaning of the song) had given it before. As for “I will love you“, the title song of the show, and a recurring tune in both acts, it shows how words of love change their meaning when you change who sings them, and to whom they are sung to. The song additions less known, as the poignant “Let’s talk about you, about me“, or the very cinematic “The price of a man.
A bold staging
Everything is carried by a frontal, almost raw staging, which shows emotions as strong as desire or despair without hiding them. Bringing heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, two- or three-way love together on stage hasn’t been seen since the 1970s in a musical of this scale. Showing death in such a simple, straightforward way is both touching and chilling. – when one of the characters, homeless in the New York subway, lets himself die under the indifferent gaze of passers-by, the silence that precedes the applause of the public is rich in meaning. “You never know what happened in the life of a homeless person, you forget it. This is what upsets me the most in this painting. We’re not used to that in musicals, where everything is all pink, all beautiful, all colorful.” explains Hobbs, the interpreter of the role. In what she tells us, the musical “I will love you‘ is comedy in name only, and descends into a certain darkness as the show progresses – again, that’s unusual and disturbing in a good way for musical comedy audiences.
All in an extremely successful decor, composed of simple but ultra-modular elements manipulated by the actors and actresses themselves, and sublimated by the light, giving rise to very aesthetic paintings. Basically, this show is one of the greatest gifts that could be given to Michel Sardou’s discography.
We do not escape the “fan service”
However, the show is not perfect and does not avoid certain pitfalls. Starting with the complexity and therefore the length: intermission included, the show lasts nearly 3 hours. Because if the direction dares and takes risks, one can regret that the dramaturgy, it, didn’t have the courage to turn his back on “fan service” and to recalibrate expected songs, obligatory passages. “Connemara Lakes” arrives from the beginning of the show, brought like a hair on the soup – a character evokes his Irish origins, his father Sean Kelly, and… voila. A minute later, we are “there baaaas, in Connemara”.
It is even more complex with “Muslims”including the integration forces you to add a ramification to the story to tell that one of the characters has rebuilt his life in Algeria – a number which, moreover, risks making both sides of the political spectrum cringe with its very “Aladdin” vision of the Maghreb and a dance performed by dancers in full veil. The show would benefit from getting rid of these “obligatory passages” on songs that we would see well summoned in the greetings, as are “Waterloo” in “Mamma Mia” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” in “We Will Rock You”, the musical on the songs of Queen.
The public seems to forgive the absence of “live” music on stage
The other downside (and even, red card) is a format problem. The show claims to be Broadway, and in many ways it is closer to this heritage than that of the great French musical frescoes – it is closer to a “Mamma Mia“only one”Romeo & Juliet“. But we regret that the movement did not go to the end, and, even if we remain aware of the budgetary constraints that such a production represents, we would have liked to see this show in a room on a more human scale (especially since the decor is in “theater” format and not in “sports hall” format), and especially with “live” musicians.
In 2021, nearly a decade after big shows like “Mozart Opera Rock” Where “resist” have taken the plunge, and that places like Mogador have made it a rule, proposing a musical without musicians on stage is highly disappointing. And even more disappointing than the arrangements of the show, designed by Philippe Uminksi and Quentin Bachelet, are very successful, faithful to the originals without falling into the copy. We didn’t ask for a symphony orchestra, but a rhythm section would have given the show an extra soul that it sometimes lacks a little.
But the public does not care, and accompanies the singers during a certain number of important songs, before applauding to the breaking point at the time of the salutes a talented troop which makes that one does not get bored during the nearly three hour show. And the encore, a medley of Sardou hits, takes on the appearance of karaoke. Although there are some imperfections, the promise made to the public on the poster of the show is kept: “You already know you’re going to sing!” The electric atmosphere of a room with nearly 5,000 seats carried away by this show, after two years with almost no musicals, does a lot of good, and makes you want to sing in turn.