Book Reviews

Playbill – June 2007

Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, creators of such legendary musicals as Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre and the current Pirate Queen, are the subjects of an excellent new biography by Margaret Vermette … Vermette has not only written a fascinating biography of these two artists but also includes an invaluable “Fact File” of all their musicals. It is a must-have record of their world-wide achievements in the field of musical theatre.


Musical Stages – Summer 2007

Having been closely involved in 15 different productions of Les Misérables from 1985 to 2003 and having “retired” from working on it in 2004, I approached this book with great interest. Margaret Vermette has wisely decided to let the composers speak for themselves rather than draw her own conclusions on the subject of writing musicals.

After a brief appreciation by Colm Wilkinson, Vermette opens the book with an introduction to the composers. The first chapter is a biographical account of the personal and historical background of the two gentlemen in a lengthy series of interesting observations regarding their work. As well as the witty and succinct views of the two writers, there are superb contributions from nearly all the major personalities who have been responsible for the realisation of their musicals from La Révolution Française to their latest work The Pirate Queen. Their work receives a thorough and detailed analysis from early concept to rehearsals and production.

This is one of the most interesting and informative books on modern Musical Theatre. There are fascinating stories from Trevor Nunn and John Caird as well as Conall Morrison and Cameron Mackintosh. Even though I knew most of the history of the making of their three major shows, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Martin Guerre, new facts and figures are continually revealed. The book wisely avoids too much revelatory inside gossip (I could write a separate book on that!). The text concentrates on the technical and theoretical aspects of Musical Theatre writing and composition. All the twists and turns in getting a show “right” are aired and discussed frankly and honestly giving the reader a real insight into the process.

This is an immensely enjoyable and informative book, which will be of major interest to both professionals and to the public who love and admire the work of Boublil and Schönberg.


American Theater Web – May 2007

What’s really remarkable about the book, in fact, is how much of it is simply transcripts of conversations that Vermette has had with these artists. Instead of getting a cut-and-dry recounting of the works – several of which I imagine we all know by heart – you get a really personal view of what went into making them happen … from the moment when Boublil and Schönberg first conceived of them all the way through their opening nights.

The conversations with the artists aren’t all you’ll find in “Musical World”. There are some truly stunning photographs of the productions that help to illustrate what the artists are describing and then there are truly comprehensive indices that provide synopses for the shows, song lists, credits for major productions, etc. This book is a must for all die-hard fans and may even convert a few non-fans.


Amateur Stage – July 2007

It has got to be one of the most reasonably priced theatre books of modern times, given its subject matter, its dramatically mesmerising content, with 382 pages including a remarkably fascinating amalgam of 48 full colour and 45 black and white photographs scattered through its compelling text, that is described by Sir Cameron Mackintosh as “A fascinating glimpse behind the barricade of Boublil and Schönberg” … the theatre book that will surely prove the most un-put-downable since Sheridan Morley and Ruth Leon’s Hey Mr Producer! … This is the first book to offer a comprehensive look behind the closed doors of these intensely private musical theatre giants as they take centre stage and talk openly about their methods and the creative processes involved in writing the book, the music and the lyrics of their shows.

What’s on Stage – October 2007

Here’s a chance to peek into the intensely private world of the two Frenchmen behind Les Misérables, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. Author Margaret Vermette has persuaded them to talk candidly about the creative processes involved in writing the book, music and lyrics to Les Mis, Miss Saigon, and Martin Guerre and she also speaks to their directors, including Trevor Nunn. With hindsight, the team’s high hopes for The Pirate Queen make fascinating reading, as the show flopped on Broadway … this book is a must have for any musical theatre fan.

Playbill – May 2007

The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg is Margaret Vermette’s fabulous, fascinating investigation of two international tunesmiths who are anything but les misérables, and it is being released by Applause Books just as the duo launches The Pirate Queen on Broadway.


The Stage – 25 October 2007-11-22

It may seem a moot point, but when Les Misérables opened at the Barbican in 1985, it garnered generally dismal critical reviews. Twenty-two years on, it is still playing to packed houses in London, on Broadway and around the world. To call it a phenomenon may smack of hyperbole, but the fact remains that more than 54 million people have seen the show, which has been produced in 38 countries and has been translated into 21 languages. For all this success Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg remain intensely private people and Margaret Vermette’s book aims to shed a little light on the authors and, in doing so, discover a little about the creative processes they use.

This book is a valuable addition for fans, featuring dozens of interviews with the writers and the people who have worked with them, including Cameron Mackintosh, Nicholas Hytner, Trevor Nunn and Richard Maltby Jr. While much of the book concentrates on the processes that led to Les Misérables, equal measure is given to their other great success, Miss Saigon, as well as a fascinating insight into the birth, death and re-birth of Martin Guerre and insight into their most recent collaboration on Broadway, The Pirate Queen.

For reference, the Fact File in the book’s final chapter is full of fascinating tit-bits of information, from Jude Dench’s one night only appearance on the barricades in Les Misérables, to how much water the cast and crew drank per week during Miss Saigon. Vermette has laced together an interesting network of interviews that goes some way to explaining not only the writing process, but the collaboration involving all the artistic team.


Library Journal – May 2007

In this first comprehensive study of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, British journalist Vermette presents their in-depth discussions of writing the books, music, and lyrics and the creative process of bringing a musical drama to completion … Lovers of theater will enjoy the behind-the-scenes stories, such as when Judi Dench appeared in May 2004 as Madame La Farge in Les Misérables; she was starring in the theater next door in All’s Well That Ends Well, and Madame La Farge’s short appearance coincided with Dench’s time off the stage in her play. For each musical, Vermette has created a “Fact on File” section complete with international productions, recordings, and who starred when, among other interesting tidbits. Fans and students of musical theater will welcome this book. Recommended for large public libraries, academic libraries, and all theater collections.


Broadway Baby – May 2007

One of the chief criticisms levelled against the sung through musicals of Boublil and Schönberg (Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Martin Guerre) is their use of recitative
instead of spoken dialogue and the repetitive nature of many of their songs. But as we learn in The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg, they not only know what they are doing but believe their approach is the only way to go. Author Margaret Vermette does an outstanding job here of presenting interviews with these two immensely private writers, who talk openly about their methods and the creative processes involved in writing the book, music and lyrics. – June 2007

Margaret Vermette’s comprehensive biography of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg is a real treat for musical theatre lovers. The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg chronicles the duo’s beginnings and traces their rise to theatre stardom. Told largely as an oral history, the book contains a massive amount of information straight from the mouths of not only Boublil and Schönberg themselves, but many of their significant artistic partners as well, including Cameron Mackintosh, Trevor Nunn, John Caird, and Nicholas Hytner. There’s even a chapter on their newest endeavour, The Pirate Queen, a Fact File appendix with information about all of the pair’s London, New York, and international, productions, and a lot of sweet photos.


Customer Reviews

John Timperley (London) 12 April 2009 *****

A Musical Theatre Bible. As a lyricist and playwright, I have read many books about the staging of dramatic works.

None of these previous works have come near to the levels of competence, interest and sheer enjoyment of this book.

Margaret Vermette has secured access and cooperation from the most talented group of theatre professionals ever gathered in one place. They have all expressed themselves fully, generously and informatively. An outsider would have to spend a lifetime skulking in the shadows to obtain such intimate, and expert disclosures.

Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg bring welcome insights into their unique collaborative methods. They never write a word, or a single note, until the detailed skeleton of the work has been structured. Thereafter, in discussion with other members of the creative team, they can set their egos aside to bring finality to their staged masterpieces, until they get audience reactions! At which stage the polishing continues.

In my humble opinion, LES MISERABLES is the finest musical of all time. I have seen it many times, and I attended the magnificent 10th Anniversary Concert at the Albert Hall on 8th October 1995, when artists gathered from all over the world, to create an unforgettable experience.

This book revives those memories and creates many new ones .

Karen Chandler (Shaftesbury) 1 May 2008 *****

A Musical Theatre Treasure! What an exceptional book this is! I haven’t been able to put it down. Without a doubt it’s the best exposition of musical theatre creation that I’ve ever read – and I’ve read many! Not only does it tell you about the amazing lives of the two Frenchmen who wrote Les Misérables but, with a series of exclusive personal interviews, it details exactly how they did it. Not just Les Mis but all their shows, and there’s long interviews too with all their co-writers, directors and producers. Vermette’s skill in presentation is magnified many times by her ability to pull nuggets of wisdom out of such talented and diverse people as Trevor Nunn, Cameron Mackintosh and Herbert Kretzmer as well of course as Boublil and Schönberg themselves. It’s a tour de force of form and substance and a fascinating read.

Julie Hayden (Dorset) 28 January 2008 *****

This is such an amazing book. I didn’t know anything about Boublil and Schonberg before, but this gives a fascinating account of their early lives and how they came to meet. It even tells about their first lunch with Cameron Mackintosh at a fashionable Paris restaurant, when Claude-Michel pretended he couldn’t speak English so as to size Cameron up! It’s given me such an insight into how their shows are created with lots of interviews with them and their collaborators. It’s packed with colour pictures and is fantastic value for such a comprehensive book. If you love their shows you’ll love this.

D.B. Smith (England) 24 July 2007 *****

This is not just a book that sits on your coffee table to impress your friends, it is so much more. If you have been lucky enough to have seen Les Misérables, Miss Saigon or Martin Guerre, you will be fascinated by “The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg”. It’s a journey into the musical world of theatre; from the first chapter to the last you will be fascinated by how musicals are created and produced. I loved reading about the lives of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the interviews with producers, musical directors, actors and singers, all in their own words and so informative. Also the photos bring each chapter alive. If you are studying theatre in any form this book will be invaluable, or if, like me, you just love musicals, then it’s an enjoyable read, I couldn’t put it down.

LBWheels457 (Milwaukee,WI) 10 April,2007 *****

This is a wonderfully insightful book to some of my favourite musicals! I really enjoyed the background information as to how some of the musicals came to be, the processes that were followed … everything! I highly recommend this book!

Tina Fowler (London) 1 April 2007 *****

This 408 page book takes you on an amazing journey into that fascinating world of musical theatre. I was intrigued to read about the lives of the two Frenchmen who have given us Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Martin Guerre. The interviews give you a great insight to how these productions have been created. There is so much information and the great colour photos and song lines tell the story of each musical. This is such a good read if you are “into musical theatre” and invaluable if you are studying theatre in any form. P.S. I loved the trivia and gossipy bits at the end!
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