I was invited to attend a workshop today with Claude-Michel Schönberg, writer of Les Miserables. Six writing teams had been asked to prepare material for his feedback and I think we were all terrified because he’s rather famous for his Gallic bluntness! I’m actually all for bluntness, particularly in this business, because it makes a compliment all the more special. His opening statement to us all rather summed up his views: “these days everything is fabulous. You put a show on and everyone tells you it’s fabulous. But not everything is fabulous.” His view is that we’re all professionals, so ought to be able to take criticism (and he’s right). He also believes that being a successful writer is almost entirely dependent on your ability to deal with failure. “Our job is to deal with failure after failure, but always with great enthusiasm.” For some reason I found that particular statement greatly moving.
There were a few slightly uncomfortable moments during the day when Claude-Michel was quite harsh with some of the writers. One girl in particular had written what I felt was a stonkingly beautiful melody, but was heavily criticised. The joy about Claude-Michel is that he comes entirely from the perspective that the music needs to serve the drama of a moment. There’s no point in writing a beautiful melody if it doesn’t land theatrically. Sometimes a beautiful melody actually destroys drama because it lulls an audience into a passive place.
His instincts are remarkable. Take, for example, my song, “Warwickshire.” He immediately, and very shrewdly, ascertained that the song came out of quite a dramatic scene and that its somewhat wistful beginning was at loggerheads with the drama of the dialogue immediately before. This was something which required clever acting in the Central production. Ruby Ablett was forced to take herself out of an angry place and will herself into a reverie fo suit the mood of the song. She did this impeccably well, but a performer should never need to use their craft simply to justify sloppy writing. Hannah the director struggled with the problem and I was hugely impressed with Claude-Michel for honing in on the issue so rapidly and succinctly. He also offered a fairly inspiring fix.
Laura Barnard and Nathan sang for me, and both did me utterly proud. Laura sang “Warwickshire” and the two of them did “You Will Be Loved” together. I had my head buried in the piano but there seemed to be a lot of warmth in the room. Everyone is always really moved to hear that the story of Em is based on truth and afterwards Claude Michel said “you have a good song and a very moving story because it’s true. The change of key is perfect, the melody is wonderful.”
I’d call that a job well done. A very lovely day.