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.
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.
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.
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.
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.