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The Braille Legacy – “A major new musical inspired by the story of Louis Braille”
Tête à Tête with Sébastien Lancrenon the man behind The Braille Legacy
Liberty, equality and fraternity are the values that were to form part of France’s DNA. These three words would resonate in France’s history following the French Revolution. The revolutionaries of 1789 imagined a world where everyone would be equal, where everyone would help each other, a world where everyone would be free. In order to create this world, they needed to have visionaries who would fight to the end in order to achieve their goal. They would need people who would not give up and who would not just accept things the way they were.
Louis Braille, who invented, in 1824, the revolutionary reading method for blind people which bears his name today, was such a visionary. He was not prepared to accept his fate and instead fought for the rights of others and for them to be liberated from a life of darkness.
The method he invented nearly 200 years ago transformed the lives of millions of people across the globe. Suddenly, people could read, learn, communicate in writing with others.
Louis Braille was 5 when he became blind. At the time, in Louis’s world, 20 years after the French Revolution, not everyone is equal. Those who are blind are treated as idiots and mocked as if the sheer fact that they cannot see means that they have no longer the use of their brain or of their other senses.
Louis is a particularly gifted child who learns to play both the cello and the organ. He knows that the sense of touch is something that people who are visually impaired develop more over time. They use their fingers as their eyes. When Louis invents the method, he is only 15 and although he is not the first person to think of a way using the tip of the fingers to read, he is the one who finds a way to simplify it. He improves it, and turns it into the method which is still used today the world over.
Sébastien Lancrenon’s vision
For those of you who have lived in the UK for many years, you might not have heard of Sebastien Lancrenon. Sebastien is the man who relaunched Radio Classique in France and made it what it is today. This will give you an idea of the man he is. He achieved this relaunch in record time and made Radio Classique one of the pillars of French radio by transforming its programming and its marketing.
From 2009, Radio Classique positioned itself as a radio for the senses and the emotions for all those who are thirsty for relaxation and culture. Its signature became “Vie Moderne, Radio Classique” (Modern Life, Classic Radio).
When Sebastien leaves Radio Classic, the radio has nearly 400,000 listeners between 6am and 9am. A record for a radio of this type. A great achievement for this perfectionist who loves music, literature and poetry.
So when I heard in October 2012 that Sebastien was leaving Radio Classic to dedicate himself to a new project, I wondered what this new project could be. It had to be pretty big.
Then a few months ago I got wind of the fact that Sebastien was in London and that he had already been working on a brand new musical, a musical like no other.
When I met Sebastien recently, I had already listened to some of the songs from the musical he had been working on which had completely blown me away. I had not heard anything so big, so emotionally charged since Les Miz. The music was not only compelling, it was mesmerising. The powerful tunes had depth, rhythm and strength. I could tell instantly that they had what it takes for people to hum them as they would be leaving the auditorium. I adored the lyrics. It was with pure poetry that they were recreating Louis Braille’s odyssey.
As I sat down to talk to Sébastien, I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about his intellectual process, about what had driven him to embark on this incredible journey. This is when I discovered that Sebastien had always been fascinated by Louis Braille’s Story. A story so totally unusual. Sébastien told me that, “it was very much like a calling”. He had never felt something so strongly: “I knew deep down that if I dedicated myself to this project, I could make it a success.” He decided that he would no longer resist his calling and left Radio Classique to work fulltime on his project.
I asked him what makes someone take such a big gamble. After all, this can be quite a risky business to build a new musical from scratch. It is not a small venture. “I believed so strongly in my project that I had absolutely no doubt it would succeed.” He explained
To fulfil his goal, he knew he had to have the best people working on it. He approached Jean-Baptiste Saudray, a musician he has always enormously admired. They write together, Jean-Baptiste the music and Sébastien the lyrics. The project takes shape.
Sébastien believes that “If a musical is to succeed, it’s in London that it has to prove itself.” He mentions Les Miz (Claude-Michel Schönberg and original French-language lyrics by Alain Boublil) and underlines that it is still showing in London after more than 30 years and has become one the biggest successes ever worldwide. I don’t tell him but I remember the first time I saw it in Paris in 1980 when Robert Hossein staged it at the Palais des Sports. More than half a million people saw it before it was translated into English. I was also mesmerised then and when I heard some of the songs from the Braille Legacy, I was taken back to that original feeling. It gave me goose pimples.
So Sébastien packs up his bags and heads for London where he meets Thom Southerland (Ragtime, Titanic, Grey Gardens) and asks him if he will direct the musical. He accepts. The casting is the next step. So Sébastien packs up his bags and heads for London where he meets Thom Southerland (Ragtime, Titanic, Grey Gardens) and asks him if he will direct the musical. He accepts. The casting is the next step. Jérôme Pradon will be Docteur Pignier, Louis Braille's mentor. Jérôme is already a star in the West End. Nothing is left to chance.
For Sébastien, “It is not just about creating a musical. It’s also a message that needs to be sent to the public.”
I invite you to listen to a few of the songs from the show. I am sure that like me, you will be transported, emotionally affected by the quality of the music, the lyrics and the cast.
A must see show worthy of the biggest stages in the world.
Tickets are already selling fast.
The Braille Legacy showing at the Charing Cross Theatre from 10th April until 24th June 2017
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