Ask a Parisian what the greatest place on Earth is and you can be pretty sure of the answer you are likely to receive—and rightly so. Paris is special. Its boulevards and spirit have inspired artists of every cloth to create some of the world’s greatest works of art—including the creators of Amélie, A New Musical, which plays the Ahmanson Theatre through January 15, 2017 before heading to Broadway. In honor of this Parisian treat for the holiday season, we’ve gathered together a list of other musicals on the Great White Way that exalt the City of Lights.
What is there to say about Les Mis? It is considered by many to be the French musical. Premiering in Paris in 1980, this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s lengthy masterwork of the same name follows Jean Valjean as he embarks on a path of redemption that takes him from a small village in France to the Paris uprising of 1832. The self-proclaimed world’s longest running musical, it’s a super-hit that has been seen by 70 million people—and lauded, venerated, and occasionally lampooned.
'Phantom of the Opera'
Another no-brainer addition to this list, Phantom has the honor of being the highest grossing show of all time with $5.6 billion in sales. It also set records during its four-year run at the Ahmanson from 1989–1993. Set in Paris’ famed opera house, this adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s book of the same name tells the story of a love triangle between a budding soprano, a French nobleman, and a disfigured musical genius/madman. It’s melodrama at its best. And did we mention the chandelier?
The first entry to step a little off the beaten path, Can-Can is a Cole Porter classic that premiered on Broadway in 1953. Set in the 1890s, the plot concerns a prominent judge’s objections to a scandalous dance form originating at a Montmartre nightclub—the can-can. His aim is to shut down the club where the scandalous two-step originated, but things get complicated when he falls in love with the nightclub’s proprietress. The rest of the plot is classic Porter fluff, and while it may not be a mega-hit like our previous two entries, Can-Can does boast some pretty famous tunes, such as: “I Love Paris.”
Miss Liberty is another deep cut from the mid-20th century. This Irving Berlin musical tells the story of a young reporter tasked with tracking down the woman who served as Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s model for the Statue of Liberty. When he notices a photograph of a beautiful young woman in the artist’s studio, our young reporter mistakenly believes he’s found his lady—he also falls madly in love with her. The rest of the plot concerns itself with the question of Miss Liberty’s authenticity as well as questions surrounding our young reporter’s journalistic integrity.
Another absolute love letter to the city of Paris, Gigi is a show that just can’t quite find its feet on the Great White Way. Based on the 1958 film of the same name (which was, in turn, based on a 1944 novella by Colette), Gigi tells the story of a headstrong young Parisian who is tasked with becoming a courtesan to wealthy Parisian noblemen. When she meets the wealthy womanizing Gaston, her future as a mistress seems inevitable—that is, until Gaston falls in love with her.
'La Cage Aux Folles'
This Broadway darling (which served as the inspiration for The Birdcage) is actually based on a 1973 French play of the same name. The story is pure farce—the gay owners of a Parisian drag club pretend to be a nuclear family when their son invites the uptight traditionalist parents of his fiancée over for dinner. La Cage Aux Folles has been on and off Broadway again and again since its premiere in 1983—most recently staring Kelsey Grammer.
'An American in Paris'
The stage version of An American in Paris, which opened in Paris in 2014 before heading to Broadway in 2015, was adapted from the 1951 film of the same name, which starred the legendary Gene Kelley. It’s a story of art and love in post-war Paris. The plot follows a young American soldier who finds himself in the middle of a love triangle and tempted by the promise of a lucrative visual art career. The original film was inspired by George Gershwin’s 1928 composition of the same name and—just like the movie—it makes an appearance here as well. Craig Lucas, who wrote the book for Amélie, also wrote the book for An American in Paris.
'Sunday in the Park with George'
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1984 classic is a meditation on the nature of inspiration, the artistic life, and the enduring qualities of great work. It tells two stories. The first follows George Seurat as he paints his famous “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” It traces Seurat’s sacrifices and challenges as well as a failed love affair with his model, Dot. The second story follows a descendant of Seurat’s, also an artist, as he attempts to navigate the complicated 1980s art world without losing his integrity. Though never quite reaching commercial success, Sunday in the Park with George is widely regarded as one of Sondheim’s master works. Adam Chanler-Berat plays Nino fresh off the role of George at the Huntington in Boston.
Honorable Mention: 'Anastasia'
Anastasia doesn’t quite count because it hasn’t yet had its Broadway premiere (that’s set for March 2017). Even so, the 1997 animated musical feature has inspired such a cult following that it gets a mention here. It tells story of the lost heiress to the Russian empire, Anastasia Romanov, as she travels to Paris with two con men (who hope to cash in on her royal position). The goal is to reunite with her grandmother in Paris, but this is complicated by a Russian sorcerer and a cute bat (we think) who want Anastasia dead. Along the way, the young heiress manages to fall in love with the younger of her two escorts and faces a choice between her throne and true love.