WEST VALLEY CITY — In the late 1970s, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg took the sweeping Victor Hugo tale “Les Miserables” and set it to music.
Opening in Paris in 1980, the musical, which needs very little introduction in Utah, went on to sweep Broadway and enrapture international audiences, becoming the second-longest running musical in the world.
On Tuesday night, one of those luminaries, lyricist Boublil, visited Hale Centre Theatre with his wife and two sons to catch a performance of the duo’s recent work “The Pirate Queen,” running at HCT through April 2.
“The Pirate Queen” opened on Broadway in 2007 and had a limited run of 85 performances. HCT was hand-picked by the composing duo and Music Theatre International to produce the first post-Broadway production of the historical epic.
Set in the 1500s, the musical is based on a true story about feisty Grace O’Malley as she leads an army of Irish fighters to battle for their independence from England and Queen Elizabeth I.
Fresh from a few days of skiing at Sundance, Boublil and his family greeted invited guests in a private reception prior to the performance. The Tuesday night audience eagerly gave the lyricist a standing ovation just before curtain when HCT executive producer Sally Dietlein revealed they “came on the very best night.”
Boublil stayed after the show to speak to the cast and crew and answer questions. The applause for him may have been eclipsed briefly by squeals of delight over his handsome sons, who flashed their French smiles and Periscoped their dad’s interview.
“Seeing the show in this setting brings out the emotional storytelling that this piece requires,” Boublil said to the small gathering, noting the intimacy of HCT’s arena stage. “This type of stage is where this show belongs.”
“On the proscenium stage on Broadway, the story got lost in the Irish dancing and such,” he said. “That detracts from the story. It’s really always about two people: a father and daughter, a boyfriend and girlfriend, queen and queen — it’s always about two people. I found I was interested in the couples and their relationships.”
Boublil noted that director David Tinney made wonderful choices.
“I could tell he read the story and included original elements from his research,” Boublil said.
Questions put to Boublil ranged from what is his favorite character (Javert) to how he became a songwriter in the first place (a fateful ticket to see “West Side Story”).
Finally, he touched on the importance of the book and the power of music.
“The magic of musical theater is that you can say in three minutes what it takes 50 pages to say in a book,” he said. “Take ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ for instance. After that song, you know everything you need to know about that character and what she’s going through. Once the book is something you believe in, the music comes naturally.”
Boublil posed for a large group photo with the cast, signed autographs and shook hands on his way out.
He also offered these words of thanks to HCT: “You have found ‘The Pirate Queen’s’ true emotion. You made me love this show again.”
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."