By: Lorenzo Perez, Senior Writer
In classroom workshops with faculty and aspiring student actors, in rehearsal with the University Singers as they prepared for a performance of some of the most memorable songs from their award-winning stage musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and in a pair of well-attended public appearances last week, UVA artists-in-residence Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg offered encouraging critiques to performers and shared their decades of creative insight with University and community audiences.
“The scope of their experience is so impressive, and they generously gave of their time, engaging with students and faculty in all areas of study, from stage to film and from composition to performance,” said Drama chair Colleen Kelly.
Their three-day residency was supported by an Arts Endowment Grant and co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Vice Provost for the Arts, the Department of Drama and the Department of Music. During their time on Grounds, Boublil and Schönberg discussed their efforts to bring “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon” to celebrated life on stage. They also shared their thoughts on musical theater today and coached student performers as they rehearsed in preparation for Thursday’s musical performance at Old Cabell.
That free concert introduced a wide-ranging public conversation moderated that evening by Professor Emeritus Marva Barnett. A second public event, including a question-and-answer session moderated by Kelly, took place Friday afternoon at the Ruth Caplin Theatre.
Barnett, the editor of Victor Hugo on Things That Matter, a reader that highlights Hugo’s ideas and their contemporary relevance, said Boublil and Schönberg appreciated the enthusiasm and curiosity displayed by undergraduate and MFA students in last week’s workshops.
“Claude-Michel and Alain were struck, they said, by the passion for the arts they found among UVA students, faculty and community members,” said Barnett, who is teaching a first-year University Seminar this spring exploring why the novel Les Misérables and its musical version continue to resonate so strongly with people today. “I was impressed with our students’ knowledge and focus in conversations ranging from the nitty-gritty of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables to musical theater issues to the fine points of vocal training.”
Kevin Minor, a graduate student in the Department of Drama’s MFA Professional Actor Training Program, said it was inspirational to attend a workshop led by Boublil and Schönberg.
“It’s something where you get to meet your heroes, in a sense, and you get to learn about their story and where they came from,” he said. “We get to see them at this really high place, but we also get to talk to them about how they began at the bottom, which essentially is where a lot of us are in learning about the process of building ourselves and building our craft to hopefully reach that place one day. It’s mind-blowing almost.”