Today, musicals have so many possibilities beyond Broadway and the West End that composers have the option of trying again and again to make a failed effort successful. A good example is Martin Guerre, the third musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. It opened in London in July 1996 to negative reviews; it was then extensively revised and reopened in November, going on to a modest run. (A London cast album reflecting the altered version appeared just after the second opening.) Boublil and Schönberg then undertook another extensive revision, leading to a regional British production that opened in West Yorkshire on November 30, 1998; this second cast album is based on that production. Martin Guerre is a story of mistaken identity and impersonation, its basic plot concerning a 16th-century Frenchman who returns from war to a small village after many years claiming to be the title character. Boublil and Schönberg acknowledged from the start that the man is an impostor, blowing the material up to be about the fight between Catholics and Protestants. Critics found the result problematic, but the plot problems were perhaps less serious than the lack of memorable songs. The writers tinkered a lot in this third version: where the first album credited Edward Hardy and Stephen Clark as English lyricists, now only Clark is mentioned, and though most of the music and scenes are essentially similar, the lyrics are nearly all new. Unfortunately, the result isn't really better or worse, it's just different. Since the writers have not questioned their basic notions about what they want to say with the show, and since that's where the problems are, all their work is for naught. Martin Guerre is still overblown and convoluted, without a compelling story. And while Schönberg has written a couple of new tunes that clearly are intended to stand outside the show as standards, the score is still dominated by recitative and tired motifs that worked better in Les Miserables. Boublil and Schönberg can afford to keep bringing Martin Guerre back, but, on the basis of this third version, they are no closer to making a successful work than they were the first time around.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann