Performing Arts

Paris Theatre Welcomes Broadway's 'Lion King'

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On any night of the week, theatre-goers in Paris can choose between dozens of productions of the French classics, French farce or French operetta. What they rarely see are musicals from America or Britain. But that's changing. The French version of The Lion King has started a run in Paris.


Up until now, French theater-goers in Paris have rarely seen the kind of splashy, big budget productions that dominate Broadway and the West End of London. There's long been a belief that French tastes are too sophisticated for that kind of thing. Now a French version of "The Lion King" has started a run in Paris. Its producers believe and hope that this American audience pleaser can charm the French enough to reverse the trend.

Anita Elash reports from Paris.

(Soundbite of play, "The Lion King")

ANITA ELASH: Just like the Broadway version, this production of "The Lion King" features dancing elephants, music by Elton John, and a moving story about love and responsibility. The big difference here is that the English songs and dialogue have been translated into French.

(Soundbite of play, "The Lion King")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) (French spoken)

ELASH: Until recently, big-ticket Broadway musicals have had only limited success in Paris. Even "Les Miserables," which is based on the French novel by Victor Hugo, played for only eight months before it closed. Alexandro Ravelo(ph), a director of the recently opened School of Musical Comedy in Paris, says that's because audiences brought the French distaste for globalization to the theater with them.

Mr. ALEXANDRO RAVELO (Director, School of Musical Comedy): (French spoken)

ELASH: It was psychological, he says. The very fact that these shows came formatted from abroad created a problem. It didn't work because it was American. There was a sort of anti-Americanism.

Ravelo thinks those days are over. And Stage Entertainment, the Dutch company that's producing "The Lion King" in Paris, agrees. Arno Kazay(ph) is one of its spokesmen, and he believes there's a new generation of French theatergoers who've grown up with American pop culture from abroad and are more open to the rest of the world.

Mr. ARNO KAZAY (Stage Entertainment): (Through translator) I think it's only normal that the best of Broadway can be just as popular with French audiences as the best of Hollywood or Bollywood or African cinema. It's only logical that a strong production speaks to everyone, no matter what the language.

ELASH: Stage Entertainment has put a lot of money into this production of "The Lion King." That includes buying and completely renovating a theater - making it the only one in Paris built to the standards of London's West End. There are features most Parisian theaters lack: bigger seats with lots of leg room, a space for a live orchestra, a backstage area that can accommodate scores of actors, and for the intermission, six bars. This evening, the theater is about three-quarters full. Most of the audience looks to be under 50, and they're delighted with what they've seen.

Mr. ADRIAN TOMPERA(ph) (Audience Member): (French spoken)

ELASH: I think it's only Broadway that can do something like this. I really see the difference, says Adrian Tompera. It's grandiose. It makes you vibrate. It's very good.

Ms. ISABEL ETNA(ph) (Audience Member): (French spoken)

ELASH: We've had a few other musicals in the city, like "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Ten Commandments," that were typically French. But we've never imported a play like this, says Isabel Etna. Here you can see that all the work, all the staging, is very American. Everything is perfect.

The producers are betting that sort of sentiment will last. "The Lion King" is here for an indefinite run - a first in Paris.

For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Paris.

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