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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 09:42 GMT
Les Mis team reunite in West End
Arif Ansari
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Julian Ovenden, Ruthie Henshall and Alexander Hanson
Julian Ovenden (left), Ruthie Henshall and Alexander Hanson star in the show

The three men who wrote the hugely successful musical Les Miserables have reunited to create a new stage show, Marguerite.

Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer wrote the music and lyrics for Les Miserables, which has been translated into 21 languages and has become the West End's longest-running musical after opening in 1985.

Now, rehearsals for their second production Marguerite are under way in London and the cast put on a special preview for journalists and an invited audience.

It is based on Alexandre Dumas' classic novel La Dame aux Camelias, published in 1848, which has been adapted for stage and screen many times since.

This version tells the story of Marguerite, the mistress of a senior German officer who falls in love with a young musician. The title role is taken by Ruthie Henshall.

Boublil says the period is crucial. "I was obsessed by one day finding a good and honest reason to tell a story set during World War II in France during the very sad and dark times of the French shameful collaboration," he says.

Unlike an awful lot of musicals around at the moment, it's not a kids' musical
Jonathan Kent
Although this will be only the second time the three men have united, Boublil and Schonberg have worked together many times before.

The musical is certainly different to Les Mis or Miss Saigon, one of their other productions.

It only has 16 actors in the cast, and a dozen in the band.

It will not be a major spectacular and nor is it meant to be.

Directed by Jonathan Kent, it will be his last production as artistic director at the Theatre Royal Haymarket before moving on.

"It has to have a sophistication and an elegance which matches the music," he says. "That's the point of it.

Alain Boublil and Jonathan Kent
Alain Boublil and Jonathan Kent say Marguerite sounds great
"Unlike an awful lot of musicals around at the moment it's not a kids' musical."

But Boublil and Schonberg do not always hit the right note. Two more shows, Martin Guerre and The Pirate Queen, struggled badly.

This time, renowned film composer Michel Legrand was brought in at the start to ensure the quality of the music.

Despite his involvement, some invited guests at the preview quietly grumbled about the songs.

The poster, though, is certainly distinctive.

It portrays Marguerite in a bright red dress set against the black skies of Paris. The colours are symbolic of Nazism, while bombers fly above the Eiffel Tower.

I'm not saying I approve of Nazism, but it's quite interesting to get into the mind of one of the baddies
Alexander Hanson
A Swastika was removed from the poster in the design stage - a reminder perhaps of the sensitivity attached to portrayals of Nazism.

"The other danger is that it can easily become Allo Allo," points out Kent.

"It's a delicate area, but in a sense this is a love story set against a background of war, rather like Casablanca is," he says.

It is down to actors including Henshall and Julian Ovenden to bring this to life.

Alexander Hanson plays Otto, the Nazi. "You have to empathise and in a way love your character," he says.

"I'm not saying I approve of Nazism, but it's quite interesting to get into the mind of one of the baddies."

The original plan was to open in France, but with the involvement of Kent it moved to London.

Audiences will be able to see it at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 7 May.

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