Marguerite has been playing in Czech at the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, Czech Republic on selected days a month since November 2010. My ultimate response to this wonderful new production can be summed up in just four words: ‘It made me cry’. It evoked emotions that the London production failed to do, despite its excellence in so many ways.
Based on the original London version by Alain, Claude-Michel and Jonathan Kent the show has been extensively rewritten by Alain and Marie Zamora. Michel Legrand and Alain have written two completely new songs as well as re-shaping and re-organising the existing material from the London show while retaining the majority of Herbert Kretzmer’s English lyrics. William Brohn’s superb new orchestrations really bring the piece to life.
There are substantial plot and character changes that effectively and affectively alter the dynamics of the piece. We see Marguerite actually working at the Tabarin Cabaret in both rehearsal and performance and it is clear she is living with Otto for survival rather than luxuries. She has a definite physical condition, a heart problem, which is a nice symbolic touch, and introduces a new character, her doctor, who is also a member of the Resistance. She herself develops a strong link with the Resistance and makes self-sacrifices to ensure Armand’s safety. Otto shows no love or even affection for Marguerite as he tries to dominate and control her. His monstrous behaviour and sadistic delight in the perpetration of atrocities against the Jews and plotting the destruction of Paris distance Marguerite entirely from him and motivate her to take action, informing the Resistance of his plans. These changes result in a much greater sympathy for Marguerite throughout.
In this production Annette and Lucien are brother and sister and Annette is secretly in love with Armand which adds extra complexity with a second love triangle. So we have Annette-Armand-Marguerite as well as Otto-Marguerite-Armand and this fundamentally changes the dynamics of the story. Annette has become a very interesting character. She is loyal and feisty and seems to see more clearly than the other characters. She is the first one to recognise that Armand is in danger because he has a Jewish grandmother, which is an excellent new twist to the plot.
There is now a poignant new duet between Armand and Annette ‘The Questions In Your Heart’, which shows the inevitability of fate and that love doesn’t let you choose. It’s very moving and a little ironic that their closest moment comes with this song and from a shared understanding of the pain of unrequited love. Armand is probably the least changed character, perhaps more of a romantic dreamer, and still hopelessly in love with Marguerite.
Another new character is the camp choreographer for the Tabarin and the rehearsal scene is brilliantly funny and provides some light relief. But the scene is more than just a comic device as it shows the Tabarin as a somewhat second rate cabaret venue, with only Marguerite having any real talent.
All the best songs have been retained, with ‘China Doll’ possibly still my favourite with it’s beautiful melody and because it is such a perfect metaphor for Marguerite’s life. ‘Jazz Time’, ‘The Face I See’ and ‘The Letter’ are still very memorable and ‘Damn The Day’ now gains immeasurably by being first sung by Marguerite after Otto has forced her to write to Armand denying her love for him. There are some new words as she now damns the day she first met Otto and it’s a very powerful scene which is extended as Armand continues the song on receipt of her letter. It is these kind of small changes which add a greater cohesion and an organic logic to the story.
There is a gorgeous new song for Marguerite called ‘A New Song’ which has a sublime heart-swelling melody and compelling words – a definite highlight of the show and it’s a song that replays in the mind long after the show is over. It is a pivotal point not just in her relationship with Armand but also in her own self awareness.
This production has a much more satisfying ending. Marguerite’s death is more definite as she is accidentally shot before dying in Armand’s arms. The plot and character changes throughout have lead to a much greater feeling of empathy for Marguerite. The pathos is immensely heightened and the reprise of ‘The Face I See’, now being Armand’s face, is almost unbearably poignant. It is a much stronger dramatic resolution and it allows the tears to flow freely. While Armand is still holding Marguerite, Annette, standing behind them, reaches out to him, not quite touching his shoulder but touching the audience with her love and understanding before sobbing in her brother’s arms.
The show has been skilfully directed by Marie Zamora with Gabriela Haukvicová, the artistic director of the theatre, translating. It can have been no easy task especially as there were doubles for the principal cast, with actors performing on different nights. The two Marguerites Eva Zbrožková and Hana Fialová have stunning voices and were both quite exceptional in their role bringing out all the warmth, resilience and fragility required to stir the emotions.
The two Armands, Tomáš Novotný and Lukáš Vlček played the role with youthful passion while Marcel Školout’s Otto was incredibly menacing. Both Annettes, Veronika Gidová and Zuzana Kopřivová gave excellent, slightly different, performances. The staging, on a far smaller budget, worked very well and allowed the leads to shine. This is appropriately slightly darker than the London production but I found it considerably more moving and I enjoyed it immensely.
For forthcoming performance dates see News October 2011.