Marguerite – Original West End Cast Recording

track listing

1. Come One, Come All
2. Let The World Turn
3. Jazz Time
4. China Doll
5. China Doll (Reprise)
6. The Face I See
7. Time Was When
8. The World Begins Today
9. Waiting
10. Day By Day (Part 1)
11. Intoxication
12. I Am Here
13. Take Good Care Of Yourself
14. Overture Act 2/Day By Day (Part 2)
15. Dreams, Shining Dreams
16. Take Good Care Of Yourself (Reprise)
17. I Hate The Very Thought Of Women
18. The Letter
19. What’s Left Of Love
20. Paris
21. Day By Day (Part 3)
22. How Did I Get To Where I Am
23. Day By Day (Part 4)
24. Come One, Come All (Reprise)
25. Finale
26. Paris Est Libr (Bonus Track)
Marguerite is something of a West End rarity. A new, original musical that is not a rehash of a popular film or clumsily hooked on some band’s back catalogue.

Written by Les Mis‘s Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schnberg, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, Marguerite was inspired by the true story of Marie Duplessis, one of the most feted courtesans in nineteenth century Paris, (whose life was also the inspiration for Dumas The Lady of the Camellias). Set during the Second World War, it tells the tale of a French woman whose love for a young man blights her otherwise successful attempts to survive in occupied France.

When I saw the stage production in May 2008, I was unimpressed with Michael Legrands score, I found it weak and not particularly memorable; I had hoped that a second listen might reveal overlooked subtleties but, while the cast recording proves that the music does bear revisiting, the album also struggles to stand up on its own.

The recording includes virtually all of the music heard in the show plus one bonus track, Paris Est Libr and, with exactly the same cast, retains a sound strikingly true to the live experience. This means that we actually hear snippets of radio broadcasts, gunshots and bombs falling during the songs.

The opening number, Come One, Come All, certainly gains something from a second listening. Summarising the story, it contains an underlying sense of real menace and foreboding, before punching home its verdict on Marguerite with the lines: ‘She burnt her candles, she craved attention.’ The song, however, lacks stylistic integrity. It has so obviously been constructed to make a series of narrative points, and is not nearly as powerful as it needs to be. Things don’t improve much with Let the World Turn which has a weaker tune, and is too focused on establishing the background to the drama to work on its own as a song.

Things improve considerably with the pleasing melody of Jazz Time and the two renditions of China Doll. The first is sung by Marguerite herself (the wonderful Ruthie Henshall) and the second by her young lover, Armand (played by Julian Ovenden). This song is one of the musical’s strongest and to hear it sung by two different, but equally powerful, voices, is very rewarding.

But, after this highpoint, things take a sharp downturn. The songs become increasingly mediocre and too many of the early melodies are reprised (often more than once). Without the necessary context, they simply grow monotonous, and though the songs are pleasing to hear once, they are simply too weak to sustain an entire show. Of course, any cast recording may suffer a little from the removal of the narrative thrust and the visual drama, but this problem is accentuated in the case of Marguerite given that its dramatic elements were always much stronger than its music.

Henshall’s voice is as good as ever, and those who found the show more appealing than I will doubtless be excited by the chance to own this. But, to my mind, the recording served to emphasis the show’s main flaws: the weakness of the score and the imbalance between the dramatic and musical elements of the show.

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