We’ve lost another one of the greats: Herbert Kretzmer, who was singly responsible for translating (and often entirely re-imagining) the lyrics of Les Miserables from French into English.
Les Mis was the first musical I was ever aware of, spawning a love for the artform that has delighted me ever since. It has remained my favorite since I was five years old, and it’s been a hallmark of my own career – especially my two Les Mis parodies, “One Grain More” and “Trapped Inside the House.”
You might think that in a parody where you replace the entirety of the text, the original lyricist doesn’t have much to do with it. But nothing could be further from the truth. If the parody is a building, the original lyrics are the blueprint. The art of writing parody is to match syllables, rhyme schemes and scansion perfectly, and to draw on elements of the original and twist them to fit into the new form in order to add extra layers of comedy to people who know and love the piece that inspired it. I think that Les Mis has probably inspired more parodies than any other show, not only because of its perfect and epic score – but because the intricate and poignant lyrics are such a fertile playground and vehicle for any subject you can imagine (even food allergies!).
Herbert’s words were such a joy to work with. In studying his lyrics to write my parodies, I learned so much about the art of lyric-writing itself, which I’ve been grateful to carry over into my original music as well as my satirical pieces. He will be sorely missed, but his contributions to the world of musical theater will last forever.
Rest in peace, Herbert – and thank you so much for everything you have given to me, and to millions of others.