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Theater Abroad: How to Succeed in Paris

3 minute read

How to Succeed in Paris Turning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying into a French musical is only slightly more difficult than uprooting the Empire State Building and balancing it upside down on the tip of the Eiffel Tower. But a Paris Match editor named Raymond Castans has done it, and Comment Réussir dans les Affaires sans Vraiment Se Fatiguer is a new critical hit in Paris.

The dimension of this accomplishment is extraordinary because the French do not generally comprehend American musicals. The last one to open in translation there was Annie Get Your Gun (Annie du Far-Ouest) in 1950, and it flopped. Paris audiences expect the pressed sugars of operetta when they go to light musical theater, and they are never quite up to story lines and sociology in song. When the movie version of The King and I arrived in Paris, the theater was all but empty until the exhibitor cut all the music out of the picture; then audiences in sizable quantity began to attend.

Bettered Beef. But Castans felt that Paris was ready for Comment Réussir.

“Although certain elements are different, the essentials are the same,” he explains. “The arriviste exists in France.

We also have the boss who plays golf.

We have seen the boss’s girlfriend too.

And we know the incompetent relative who gets a job. We never even considered substituting something else for the coffee break, which, fortunately for French business, is not known here.”

It will be now. The hero starts out calling it la pause café and, after a few expositional lines, switches to le coffee-break; then, in an exceptionally French lyric, he rhymes:

Mieux qu’un beefsteak

Le coffee-break.

Dream of Bagatelle. The World Wide Wicket Company has become the TourniquetTranscontinental Trusting Company, in order to avoid a shabby French tendency to say Vorld Vide Vicket Company. When its president, J. B. Biggley, tells his florid mistress that few people know it but he is an extremely emotional man, she says (in the American version): “God damn it, so am I.”

“Merde alors,” she says in Paris. “Moi aussi.”

Parisians don’t understand suburbs in the Westchester sense, so the French Rosemary could not dream of a home in New Rochelle and hope to strike a sympathetic chord. So Castans changed the town to Bagatelle, outside Paris somewhere, but obviously expensive and exotic to the French ear.

S O S. In the song A Secretary Is Not a Toy (Une Secrétaire N’Est Pas une Poupée), he was confronted with this one: “Her pad is to write in and not to spend the night in.” Parisians could be expected to understand the sentiment but not the beat idiom. Castans settled for a weak substitute: in translation, “Her place is at the office and not at the Lido.”

Lapses like that were few enough, but one item stopped him altogether. This secretary, according to the American lyrics, had a caboose that sported everything but the word Lionel. Castans cabled Abe Burrows for help. When he learned what Lionel is, he shrugged and left it out. That was a little bit too recondite for the French.

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