Last week, the University welcomed back Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the creators of the award-winning musical version of “Les Misérables,” for their second residency Feb. 22-24.
The artists visited classes and gave advice to students, attended the University Singers’ concert tribute to their shows and participated in a subsequent conversation in which audience members could ask questions as well.
Schönberg and Boublil engaged with each audience member and provided their thoughts on the state of the world and their shows. Their passion for their work was evident and their responses were genuine, which led to emotive reactions from the audience — laughter, outcries or something in between.
“We are both immigrants, immigrants of the world,” Boublil said at the start of the conversation with the audience.
They coined the term “citizens of the world” to describe how their differences have an impact on various cultures. They embrace the distinctions between people and places, drawing inspiration from all over the world.
The artists went on to explain a large amount of their success occurred by chance and as a result of their passion. They acted on what inspired them — a lesson that many people likely took away from their conversation. For example, Boublil saw the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” and at 3 a.m. the next morning felt inspired to imitate the style, while focusing instead on the French Revolution.
The “Les Mis” musical known today is almost a fluke in history replaced by a rock opera. Fate later led Boublil to see the musical “Oliver,” which precipitated in thoughts of Victor Hugo’s novel. Schönberg was immediately on board — thus giving birth to “Les Mis.”
Schönberg and Boublil discussed the nature of the show, tragic yet inspiring.
“This show is about redemption … becoming a better person,” Boublil said.
“Les Mis” offers stories of love, war, hardship, grief and reunion, weaving them together in a poetic fashion. Going beyond a production to talk about morals and reality does not always occur with talks such as these, so hearing the artists delve into such thought-provoking topics was refreshing and empowering. The divide between the author’s intention and the audience’s interpretation is a dilemma that every artist must resolve.
Seeing Schönberg and Boublil on stage together was inspiring in itself — two creators that simply let fate lead the way, recognizing opportunities and running with them. More impressive than their accomplishments, however, was the level of companionship of the two men. They created such amazing collaborations and spent so much time together. They understand each other and are on the same wavelength about what they like and appreciate.
“All wives stick together,” Schönberg said. “I trust him. He’ll do what he says.”
Schönberg was more talkative overall, but Boublil had plenty to say when prompted or if a thought suddenly grazed his mind. The two built off of one another, emphasizing their powerful relationship.
By the end of the final discussion Friday, Schönberg and Boublil left several distinguished themes for each audience member to ponder — following passion and inspiration, remaining optimistic and acknowledging everyone’s differences.