Legrand Marguerite 2008 Original London Cast

Fine songs well served but let down by lyrics and a lack of Frenchness

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Michel Legrand

Genre:

Opera

Label: First Night Records

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

Stereo

Catalogue Number: CASTCD102

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Marguerite Michel Legrand, Composer
(Anonymous) Orchestra
John Rigby, Conductor
Michel Legrand, Composer
Ruthie Henshall, Singer
In the theatre Marguerite is a show that is about halfway there. Its biggest handicap – as is so often the case – is its book (Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent). Dare I say that after the truly lamentable Gone with the Wind that this is a musical which could actually have afforded to be longer? Development of character is at a premium – we barely know this latter-day “dame aux camélias” when she makes her untimely exit. We do know that she’s in love, though, and “love” is something that composer Michel Legrand has been doing peerlessly for decades now.

The best of this score is to be found in the ballads. “China Doll” is very beautiful, very Legrand; “The Face I See” hooks you from its first shadowy phrase and haunts the score to its final double bar-line. There are a couple of shining love duets, the first of them – “I Am Here” – sublimating in a gush of piano-led orchestration that puts the swoon back into the West End musical. Legrand and Seann Alderking have done a beautiful job ensuring that every melody fulfils its promise off the page. The orchestrations are masterly.

But one thing that bothered me in the theatre is amplified here. The show’s leading lady, Ruthie Henshall, is known for her silvery head-voice mix and the choice of keys here certainly exploits it to the full. But is that really so good for the emotional thrust of her key numbers? One longs for a climax that sits bang in the middle of her chest voice. Her Armand, Julian Ovenden, has his reach extended, too, but his ringing high baritone has plenty of heft.

For the rest, the score’s drama, such as it is – like the tritely goose-stepping “Day by Day” (definitely not to be confused with Godspell) – proves horribly generic, sub-Les Mis. Herbert Kretzmer does duty on the lyrics, of which the less said the better. Let’s just say that the allusion to Sondheim in the melodic turn of the first ensemble, “Let the World Turn”, does not extend to the words. I miss, too, real period colour and, surprisingly, Frenchness in the songs. Notwithstanding a passing Parisian waltz and one half-baked attempt at an evocative chanson, I’d have expected more from Legrand in this respect.

There is one number – “The Letter” – which comes close to achieving the requisite dramatic lift-off. In it Otto, Marguerite’s brutish German keeper, forcibly dictates her farewell note to Armand while she, in a kind of internalised counterpoint, voices the full extent of her anguish. More from where that came from might just have saved Marguerite.

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