Cleopatre, comin’ atcha! (sorry....couldn’t resist that one!!)
One thing I’ve noticed about France over the last 10 years or so, is that they love their musicals. Firstly it was Starmania, then Notre Dame de Paris, and that paved the way for the massively successful Les Dix Commandements. What the latter proved was that a soundtrack album could be successful as a separate entity from the musical itself. Most recently, Le Roi Soleil produced a string of hit singles and has made stars out of Emmanuel Moire and Christophe Mae.
Since the news leaked last year of a new project masterminded by top choreographer and Star Academy dance teacher, the lovely Kamel Ouali, we eagerly awaited the arrival of this new musical based on the Cleopatra legend.
Of course a musical could succeed or fail based on casting choices but I feel they have made the right decision for this one: the leading lady is Moroccan-born Sofia Essaidi, who was a semi-finalist in Star Academy in 2003 and since that time she released an excellent debut album which I thought was vastly underrated. Sofia excelled as an all-round performer in Star Ac therefore it’s good to see her finally getting the starring role which she deserves. She has it all: looks, talent and a distinctive singing voice although she is not the type of singer usually associated with musical theatre.
Many of the songs on this soundtrack have a very modern feel indeed: the first single, Sofia’s "Femme D’Aujourd’hui" was very ‘now’, with a musical similarity to "Umbrella" whilst the follow-up "Une Autre Vie" - a duet between Sofia and Florian Etienne, is musically reminiscent of Keane. The third, soon-to-be released single "Main Dans La Main" sunb by Mehdi Kerkouche would not seem out of place among the current crop of r’n’b tunes and I’m sure this will be a massive hit. Amelie Piovoso’s "Je Serai Ton Ombre" also has that r’n’b thing going on. I particularly like the stomping rocky number "L’Accord" and think this will work well on stage, likewise "Le Serment", a duet between Christopher Stills and Florian Etienne. There are also more traditional ballads but all in all it’s a more contemporary soundtrack than you would expect from a ‘musical’.
Looking at the songwriters involved it’s certainly an impressive list: Blair MacKichan, Patrice Guirao, Lionel Florence, Stanislas, Benoit Poher and Souad Massi appear in the songwriting credits and all lend their distinctive styles: Massi’s "Tout Sera Stratageme" certainly boasts an ‘eastern feel’ and is a nice departure from the other tracks.
Apart from Sofia, the troupe mainly consists of unknown names (to me anyway) although there is one familiar name - Christopher Stills, the son of very famous musical parents Stephen Stills and Veronique Sanson. I wonder if Florian Etienne, Mehdi Kerkouche, Dominique Magloire and Amelie Piovoso will become household names like their Le Roi Soleil predecessors?
The verdict: this is a good album rather than a great one. It could be argued that it lacks the absolute showstoppers required of a musical soundtrack, and for that matter there is nothing as good as "Mon Essentiel" or "Etre a la Hauteur" or the tearjerking greatness of "Tant Qu’on Reve Encore". As an album of contemporary songs it certainly succeeds though: it will be interesting to see just how well they fit into the stage production which kicks off on 29th January 2009 in Paris.