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11 Foreign-Language Musicals You Need To Hear

Some of the most well-known musicals to English-speaking audiences did not always premiere in English. For example, did you know that the original French production of “Les Misérables” premiered in Paris in 1980? Foreign-language musicals from Europe often have the privilege of being performed throughout Europe in the language of each respective country.

Since North America often misses the boat on these shows, here are 11 foreign-language musicals from the other side of the pond:

1. “Roméo et Juliette: de la Haine á l’Amour”

Gerard Presgurvic’s French musical, based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” premiered in Paris in 2001. It was the breakout show for French singers Damien Sargue and Cecilia Cara. The song “Les rois du monde” was a pop hit in both France and Belgium. The musical has been produced all over Europe, including a 2013 production in the play’s setting of Verona.

2. “Notre Dame de Paris”

Another massively popular French musical, this show premiered in Paris in 1998. It spawned the single “Belle,” the best-selling 1998 pop song in both France and Belgium. Although it never played in New York, an English-language production played in Las Vegas in 2000.

3. “Monte Cristo”

One of the only Russian musicals to be internationally recognized, this musical is based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” After opening in Moscow in 2008, the show toured China and South Korea. Like the aforementioned musicals, “Monte Cristo” follows the pop-opera style of several musicals based on classic novels.

4. “Mozart, l’opera rock”

Based on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, this musical premiered in Paris in 2009 before opening in Belgium and Switzerland. The musical’s song “Tatoue-moi” was a No. 1 hit in France in 2009. A proposed Broadway run of the musical has yet to occur.

5. “Rebecca”

Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, this German-language musical premiered in Vienna in 2006 and was later produced in Budapest, Helsinki and Tokyo. Aside from several workshop performances and West End readings, the musical languished in Broadway development hell, but its producers now aim for a 2017 Broadway opening.

6. “Elisabeth”

Based on the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, this German-language musical opened in Vienna in 1992 and has since been produced in Tokyo, Osaka, Budapest and Seoul. Having been seen by 10 million patrons, it is the most successful German-language musical of all time.

7. “Soldier of Orange”

Based on the 1977 Dutch film of the same name, this musical premiered in Katwijk in 2010. The musical, which takes place during World War II, was first produced in a former airbase that was converted into a theatre.

8. “Hoy No Me Puedo Levantar”

Premiering in Madrid in April 2005, this Spanish-language jukebox musical is based on the songs of José María Cano and Nacho Cano (both ex-members of Mecano). In a similar plot to “Rent,” this musical is about a group of struggling artists in Madrid battling with drugs and the AIDS crisis. It has since played in Mexico City and Barcelona.

9. “Kristina from Duvemala”

Written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (ex-members of ABBA), this musical is based on Vilhelm Moberg’s book series about a poor Swedish family that immigrates to the United States. After premiering in Malmö, Sweden, in 1995, the musical had a concert performance in Minneapolis the next year before it eventually moved to Carnegie Hall in 2009. It has also been produced in Gothenburg, Helsinki and Jessheim.

10. “Hamlet”

This Czech-language version of the classic Shakespearean tragedy premiered in Prague in 1999 and closed there in 2012. The rock musical’s score has been compared to “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and the show has also been produced in Seoul.

11. “14-18”

This Flemish musical about World War I premiered in Mechelen, Belgium, in April 2014. The Nekkerhal, the venue of the premiere, satisfies the gargantuan demands of this show, which include a 135-ton moving platform, 11 enormous set pieces and a cast of 99 actors.

Think of a musical that we left out? Let us know in the comments below…

Written by Joseph Kisiday

Joseph Kisiday is a 2016 graduate from Christopher Newport University, majoring in Music Composition. Joseph's love for theatre came at a young age through discovering the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber, such as "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera." When he is not writing, Joseph can be found watching operas or Miyazaki films.

16 Comments

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  1. You should investigate Tanz der Vampire, currently playing in Stuttgart.
    It has a fantastic score by Jim Steinman.
    The use of Total Eclipse of the Heart is fantastic.
    The ending is delightful as well.

  2. I’m most put out by the exclusion of Elisabeth. I DO DECLARE THIS AN OUTRAGE, GOOD PEOPLE OF THEATRENERDS.

    Sorry, I’ve been reading too much Holmes fanfic. =)))

    But no, seriously, it’s an awesome music. I’m a massive fan of the 2012 Vienna cast [Mark Seibert, Annemieke van Dam, and Anton Zetterholm].

  3. I love the German Tanz der Vampire, it’s American counterpart – Dance of the Vampires not near as much. Tanz is gorgeous and brooding like a good vampire piece should be. Dance became too campy, allegedly due to a star’s influence. It’s fun, but it’s nowhere near the emotional levels of Tanz.

  4. Romeo et Juliette and its italian version Romeo e Giulietta are SO FREAKING GOOD. Notre Dame de Paris is also quality. Highly recommended.

  5. “Mentiras, el musical” (jukebox musical) is theater icon now in Mexico city and “Si nos dejan” definitely reflects the Mexican culture on the scene.

  6. My friend put me on to “Le Roi Soleil” years ago. Super fun pop musical with some truly gorgeous music. Can never recall who wrote it, but it’s on everyone of my playlists. ????

  7. You can also see some footage of 14-18 in English! (They played one show in English with a London Cast – with the exception of Bert Verbeeke (who reprised his role as Albert), Dirk Bosschaert (as the General) and someone else, but can’t recall who right now and of course the same ensemble.

    Here’s to hoping it goes international!

  8. I am so glad Soldier of Orange is in there. Honestly, if you ever get the chance to go see it, please do. You might not be able to understand the lyrics and dialogue because it is all in Dutch, but the experience is worth it. What isn’t mentioned here is that a circular stage is used where the audience is the middle circle. There is a ring around it and the other backdrops (including a waterbassin with actual water and depth) are in the outer ring. Each ring can move individually, which means that as the audience turns (the entire circle with the audience rotates towards the next backdrop), the middle circle may be rotating the other way whilst the actors drive motors over the top of them, to create the illusion of more speed. It’s a wonderful theatre experience and the voices cast for it make the musical as pure as can be. It’s been a seat-filler for about 6/7 years now and still keeps prolonging performances. It’s definitely something special.

  9. I would also recommend polish musical ,,Metro”. It’s a bit unusual, but I love songs from it and the whole plot made me cry.

  10. la Boheme. Technically an opera, but still, it is in Italian and is lovely and hilarious. It is, in fact, the opera that inspired ‘Rent’.

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