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French musicals strike a chord in China

Tragically damaged since Victor Hugo's day, Notre-Dame de Paris continues to inspire locals, visitors, and Chinese theatre audiences.
Tragically damaged since Victor Hugo's day, Notre-Dame de Paris continues to inspire locals, visitors, and Chinese theatre audiences. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

French musicals that were hits here in Paris have struck a chord and found a second life far from home -- in China, where fans frequently sing along with the foreign cast.

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Western musicals have grown in popularity in China in recent years, with fans flocking to classic Broadway shows such as "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera".

But French shows have given American musicals a run for their money, with "Notre-Dame de Paris", "Mozart, l'Opera Rock" and "The Red and the Black" filling theatres.

French musicals have gained fans in the Communist-ruled country that sees itself as the heir of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary government that briefly ruled the French capital in 1871.

"Notre-Dame", which is based on Victor Hugo's classic novel, was one of the first French musicals to break into the Chinese market in 2002.

The show sold out this summer after the iconic Parisian Cathedral's roof burned down.

Hugo and his social stance have found enduring popularity in China, and the French author was once included on a list of 100 foreign cultural figures President Xi Jinping found inspiring.

Standing ovation for musical adaptation of Hugo's Paris classic

"Les Miserables", Hugo's revolutionary-themed musical, was rewarded with a 20-minute standing ovation from the audience when it was performed in Shanghai last year, according to state media.

"French shows are generally adaptations of masterpieces or historic events and they reflect the intensity of social struggle," said Wang Ruiqi, a student enthralled by "The Red and the Black".

The rock opera -- adapted from French author Stendhal's classic novel about a young man's ambitions to climb the social ladder from modest beginnings in 19th century France -- began its 50-show tour of China in October.

Most theatres quickly sold out, with tickets going for 1,180 yuan ($167) -- higher than the minimum wage in some regions.

"There's a real musical culture in China, strangely more than in France," said Laurent Ban, who plays the bad guy, Monsieur Valenod, in the musical.

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