C'est la faute à who?!
December 19, 2017 2:55 PM   Subscribe

In the French Les Mis soundtrack, Gavroche sings about how Voltaire and Rousseau are to blame for society's problems. In the English version, he sings about how he'll grow up and punch everyone. Both of these just feel right. What are some other interesting changes that have been made to musicals as they cross languages and cultures?

Not to be ungenerous, but I assume the change to Les Mis is because nobody wants to assume that Anglophone audiences know who those people are. And then I was listening to the Wicked soundtrack in German, which I do not speak, and it occurred to me that there must be loads of differences like this, whether due to culturally specific references or linguistic concerns or rhyme and meter or whatever else. Help me find some others?
posted by goodbyewaffles to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember hearing that some Japanese theatrical productions of The Lion King gave Timon and Pumbaa the regional dialect of the performance location. Not just accents--they rewrote their lines and lyrics in the dialects, which sounds impressive as regional dialects can be pretty unintelligible to non-locals.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 3:31 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Are you only interested in this phenomenon in musicals? Because the English translations of the originally French-language Asterix comics did a ton of work to make new puns and jokes that would work in English.
posted by mhum at 3:47 PM on December 19, 2017 [8 favorites]


Another non-musical example: what green vegetable Riley hates and what sport she loves depend on what country you watch Inside Out in.
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:31 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


"Gavroche sings about how Voltaire and Rousseau are to blame for society's problems."

Note that's not meant to be taken straight: he's making fun of conservatives who think that Voltaire and Rousseau are to blame.

Outside that cultural context, Gavroche's original song (which is word-for-word from the novel, I believe) just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, even if the audience has a vague idea who Voltaire and Rousseau are. So I really think that starting over from scratch was the only reasonable choice for the English lyrics.

As for actually answering the question: how about "Autumn Leaves"/"Les Feuilles Mortes"?
posted by floppyroofing at 6:02 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


Not a musical, but for a taste of what a translator goes through, check out this article on how a writer struggled to translate Seinfeld into German.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:31 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


So I decided to see if I could find anything on my favorite musical, West Side Story. A few years ago, a director’s partner had seen a Spanish-language version in Colombia where the sharks came off as the heroes. He decided the sharks should speak Spanish and hired none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda (pre-Hamilton) to write the Spanish translations. He told Miranda to use whatever images he wanted as long as it still rhymed for English audiences. That’s reported here. Unfortunately, I can’t find much on Miranda’s translations, except reports on the more vulgar language in A Boy Like That. That’s reported on here. That article also has a little more on the all Spanish-language production. Since the Miranda version is still an American production, this may not be exactly what you want.
posted by FencingGal at 6:41 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


what green vegetable Riley hates and what sport she loves depend on what country you watch Inside Out in.

It's mentioned in that article on Inside Out, but for completeness's sake, Captain America's 21st-century greatest hits list has at least 10 different country-specific versions.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:08 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


This Broadway World thread (open in incognito/private mode if using an ad blocker) has Miranda's Spanish rewrites for West Side Story and a couple takes on translating them back to English for comparison with Sondheim's original lyrics.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:15 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


"I remember hearing that some Japanese theatrical productions of The Lion King gave Timon and Pumbaa the regional dialect of the performance location. Not just accents--they rewrote their lines and lyrics in the dialects, which sounds impressive as regional dialects can be pretty unintelligible to non-locals."

Disney/Pixar does this a lot with its movies -- translating "Cars" to local languages involved finding a local dialect that had many of the same "bumpkin" implications as a Mater's Southern dialect does in the US ... plus dealing with Mario and Luigi's Italian.

Disney movies almost always have this close attention to translation these days, generally being translated into 40+ languages, and generally using more and more American slang and references.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:39 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter is about translating poetry and includes many examples of cross-cultural translation of songs.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:39 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't know if this will amuse you in the same way but Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly is named Linkerton in German productions because "Pinkerton" too closely evokes the German for "piss."
posted by Smearcase at 8:20 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Pepe Le Pew in English has a French accent, but in French has an Italian accent and the mannerisms of Yves Montand.
posted by Liesl at 8:38 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Jobim's "L'Aguas de Marco," a Brazilian Portuguese song, is about the rainy autumn, while the English translation, also by Jobim, "Waters of March" has substituted Spring imagery because it would mostly be heard by people in the northern hemisphere. The main difference is that the Aguas de Marco are the heavy rains that start the rainy season, while the Waters of March are the rising rivers of snowmelt.

Jobim did exclude some Brazil-specific cultural elements, though, to make it more universal.

You can see the lyrics here in three ways: original Portuguese, a transliteration to English, and the English lyrics translated by Jobim.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:56 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


I saw a brilliant translation of Moliere's The Misanthrope starring Kim Cattrall nearly 30 years ago. The language was modernized, but playwright Neil Bartlett retained the rhyming couplet structure.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:55 AM on December 20, 2017


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