Les Misérables writers craft life story of 'people's tenor' Russell Watson's who had two near fatal brain tumours

 

The tale of the Salford tenor who suffered two near fatal brain tumours at the peak of his powers isn’t lacking in drama. Now Russell Watson will sing the story of his life in the latest stage project from the French composers who created the all-conquering Les Misérables.

Songwriter Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil’s credits include the West End hits Miss Saigon and Les Misérables, the Victor Hugo adaptation turned into an Oscar-winning film.

The pair had never written songs for an individual singer until they met Watson, the “People’s tenor”, who was discovered singing “Nessun Dorma” in a Lancashire working men’s club.

Watson enjoyed chart-topping albums in the UK and the US, sold millions of records and performed for the Pope. But his career was halted by the discovery of a benign pituitary tumour in 2006 which required emergency surgery after it began bleeding into his brain.

Watson, 46, still requires daily medication to assist his recovery from brain cancer. He had become disillusioned with the music business until a meeting with Schönberg.

“I felt my career was stagnating,” Watson told The Independent. “I met Claude-Michel but he told me ‘I don’t write for artists’. I told him my story, from start to finish, the illnesses, everything. When I finished he said ‘I like your story. I’m going to write for you.’”

Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil wrote songs, with titles including "Tell Me" and "I Am Only One Man", which Watson said reflected his life, from working in a factory after leaving school with no qualifications, his sudden rise to international fame, the cancer diagnosis and the elation he now finds singing in front of an audience.

With assistance from Claude-Michel’s son, a West End producer, Watson’s eventful life will be turned into a show.

“We are going to construct a specific show around this music,” Watson said. “It’s going to run like a narrative story and I’m going to sing the songs. It’s my life story in words and in music.” The show will tour the UK next year, following the release of an album in November featuring Watson singing the French duo’s songs.

Claude-Michel Schönberg said: “When we knew his story, we realised that every step of Russell’s life could be reflected in the subject matter of our songs. The show will be very theatrical, telling the story of his life. At the end of the day we are always telling stories.”

Schönberg, 69, and Boublil, 72, are revelling in the blockbuster success of the Les Misérables film, which has grossed $500 million. “It has given a new lease of life to all our shows. We are busier than we were in the ‘80s,” said Boublil.

Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh is bringing Miss Saigon back to the West End next Spring, marking the 25th anniversary of the musical love story set during the Vietnam War.

“There will be a new song in Saigon, called 'Maybe', which has never been heard before,” promised Schönberg. The composers believe that the story of an American GI’s doomed affair with a Vietnamese bar girl, based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, has more resonance today following Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Maybe it’s the right time for a war musical,” said Boublil. “When we first wrote it people in America said it was offensive because the wounds were so deep. Now it is timeless.”

For Watson, collaborating with the Frenchmen has renewed his passion for music. “I wasn’t in a good place at the end of 2012. I’d been singing the same songs over and over and I didn’t feel I was going anywhere,” he said.

“Claude-Michel and Alain gave me access to their whole catalogue, including songs that hadn’t been heard for 30 years. The songs seemed to reflect every facet of my life.”

“There’s a song 'Without You', which goes ‘Without you I’d be nothing at all’. It’s a singer speaking to his audience and all the people who supported him through good times and bad. It’s a beautiful, uplifting song and when I sang it, I made a real personal association.”

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'