Hello friends, followers, and readers! Happy 14 Juillet, also known as France's National Day or Bastille Day depending on who is speaking to you. It will surprise no one that I have a lifelong love of France, so naturally I decided to combine that with my love of musicals for this post. Below, you will find a list of 14+ musicals set in France. They span location, time period, and topic, so there should be something for everyone, and they have all released cast recordings which means hopefully you will be able to find them and add them to your listening rotation. Most of these are staples on my playlists all year, every year, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Vive la France!
Les Miserables This classic 1980s adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel likely needs little explanation, but here it goes: it follows the life of a man named Jean Valjean from approximately 1815 to 1832. He is released from prison, but breaks his parole and spends much of his life running from Javert, a man who wants to send him back to pay the price for what he did. Along the way Valjean improves his life, takes a child named Cosette in as his daughter, and saves Cosette's beloved from death during an ill-fated rising in Paris (which, it should be noted, is not the French Revolution of the 1780s and 1790s, we are many decades later). At the center of the creation of this musical are Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, and because of them we have songs like "One Day More", "Do You Hear the People Sing?", and "I Dreamed a Dream". I own dozens of cast recordings of Les Miserables, in many languages, but the 10th anniversary concert from London will always be my favorite. If nothing else, I highly suggest checking out the video below that shows men who played Jean Valjean around the world sing "Do You Hear the People Sing?" in the languages of their productions:
Martin Guerre This musical from the 1990s (also with Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil heavily involved in its creation) is inspired by the story of a man who lived in the 16th century. In this incarnation of his tale, Martin Guerre is believed dead after participating in a battle. Another man, pretending to be him, comes to Guerre's village and takes over his role in Guerre's family. However, the man is found out to be an impostor AND Guerre returns. What could possibly go wrong? One of my favorite songs from this show is "I'm Martin Guerre":
Gigi Gigi was a 1944 novel that then became a musical film in the 1950s and a stage musical in the 1970s. On Broadway, it was most-recently revived in 2015 where it starred Vanessa Hudgens as the titular Gigi. Set at the turn of the 20th century, Gigi is a young woman raised in a family where the tradition is to become a courtesan. Gigi does not thrill on this future and, naturally, drama ensues. The show features a delightful Lerner and Loewe score that includes "The Night They Invented Champagne".
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels This musical is all about the comedy. With music and lyrics by David Yazbeck, this is another adaptation of a film - this time a film from 1988. It is a giddy piece set in the French Riviera where a pair of con men set their sights on someone they think should be an easy mark: Christine Colgate, the "American Soap Queen", but it turns out to be a more difficult task than they imagined. Check out Norbert Leo Butz, who won the Tony for his performance, sing "Great Big Stuff" at the Tony Awards:
Notre-Dame de Paris and Hunchback of Notre Dame Two adaptations of Victor Hugo's novel Notre-Dame de Paris with very different vibes. The first version, Notre-Dame de Paris, has been done in both French and English, and has entirely original music. The Hunchback of Notre Dame may seem more familiar to English-speaking audiences as it utilizes music from the Disney film. I, however, am going to tell you that you absolutely must hear "Belle" from Notre-Dame de Paris:
The Phantom of the Opera and Phantom Again, two adaptations of the same story (a novel by Gaston Leroux) about a young woman named Christine Daae who becomes entangled with the so-called phantom of the Opera. One, The Phantom of the Opera, is currently Broadway's longest-running musical. It was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and gave the world songs like "Masquerade" and "Music of the Night". The other, Phantom, was composed by Maury Yeston and although it is overshadowed by Webber's version, it is beloved by many a theater performer for songs like "This Place is Mine" and "My True Love".
A Tale of Two Cities Perhaps the most appropriate listen on July 14th, A Tale of Two Cities is an adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel about the French Revolution (the two cities being London and Paris) by Jill Santoriello.
Moulin Rouge! One of only two musicals on the list that was currently on Broadway when things shut down due to COVID-19, Moulin Rouge! is an adaptation of the film from 2001. The story centers around the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris and the love story between a young man named Christian and a performer named Satine. It must be noted that, like the film, popular music is used as opposed to an original score and some of the selections (like Katy Perry's "Firework") were not in the film.
Amélie I know, there are so many film adaptations on this list, and here is yet another one. The short-lived Broadway production of Amélie starred Phillipa Soo as a shy young woman who wants to make things better for all the people around her. It has often been described as 'whimsical', and I agree so much with the selection of that word that I won't try and come up with something different.
An American in Paris Based on the film of the same name from 1951, An American in Paris is an adaptation from the 2010s. This production uses famous Gershwin songs like "I Got Rhythm" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me" to tell the story of an American soldier who decides to remain in Paris following the end of World War II.
La Cage aux Folles La Cage aux Folles is a Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical based on the play of the same name. It follows a gay couple (Georges and Albin) who have raised a son together and are now faced with meeting his fiancee's family. You may recognize the plot because it also was used for the film The Birdcage. If you ever need to feel better about yourself, I highly suggest singing along to "I am What I am":
Sunday in the Park with George This Stephen Sondheim musical from the 1980s is always being revived in various places, and with good reason: it is a beautiful piece imagining the period in the late 1800s when Georges Seurat was creating his famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. See Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, and the cast perform at the 1984 Tony Awards:
Amour An underrated little gem of a musical that is based on a short story about a man in France after World War II who discovers he can walk through walls. As you can imagine, this development has wide-ranging impact on his life and the lives of those around him - including his love interest, Isabelle.
Beauty and the Beast The first Broadway musical I ever saw, back in 1995, this is exactly what you think it is - a stage production of the Disney film Beauty and the Beast. Only, in my opinion, it wipes the floor with the animated version. Why? Songs like "If I Can't Love Her" and "Me", which were added to expand the stage version beyond just the film score, make Belle, Gaston, the Beast and others even richer characters. I saved this one for last since it is the musical that made me fall in love with Broadway.