What does it take to work with Madonna, Celine Dion, head one of the hottest record labels in France, and stage a hit musical? Valéry Zeitoun might say determination, optimism, and a little craziness.
Valéry Zeitoun was born February of 1966 in the large municipality of Pantin, near Paris, to immigrant parents. Having always been interested in the Arts, Zeitoun rejected academia, flunked out of high school, took odd jobs here and there, and eventually went on to start his career working in press relations at various recording studios. After a series of promotions, slow and steady growth in his career lead to his appointment as head of recording house Label AZ where he has collaborated with artists like Bono, Florence + the Machine, and Amy Winehouse, just to name a few. From humble beginnings he has come to be a major figure in French music right now. Zeitoun is no stranger to the spotlight-- he was a judge on the popular television singing competition Popstars and he documented his very own social media-driven singing competition Je veux signer chez AZ (I want to sign with AZ). Monsieur Zeitoun can certainly be considered a self-made-man.
He holds an optimistic vision for the future of the music industry in France. He has never been in the business of selling records, rather in the business of discovering new artists and supporting their careers. It is this same optimism and love of collaboration that brought Summer ‘44 to fruition. In his exchanges with us, here at Theatre in Paris, he recounted the story of having lunch with his close friends Sylvain Lebel, Erick Benzi and François Bernheim where they decided to create a musical about the Battle on Normandy Beach and the Liberation of France.
However, the finished product, Summer ‘44, focuses far less on the war and more on the lives of ordinary people living through it. Zeitoun describes this musical as six stories intertwining through song, and it really is in the songs where this musical lives. Zeitoun was able to bring together a huge roster of famous composers, most notably Charles Aznavour (“France’s Frank Sinatra”) and Jean-Jacques Goldmann, to create the music for this production. Each of his collaborators felt a personal connection to the Second World War; whether they have had a family member lose their life or have had anecdotes passed down to them, this show is deeply personal to everyone involved. The best art in life is usually both political and personal, and this masterpiece is a love letter to the French people.
In an interview with le Figaro, Zeitoun expresses his obsession with this period and argues that it was one of the most influential periods in French culture. This summer in particular is such a turning point in French culture because of the American GI’s who came to France, and brought with them blond cigarettes, razors, chewing gum, and, most importantly, Jazz music. Zeitoun says that, for the most part, this musical is light-hearted fun suitable for the entire family, but that it also carries a very important message. He believes it is his duty to tell the story of the Nazis’ occupation of France in order to avoid similar injustices. Summer ‘44 is a reminder to us all that we must learn from our past in order to create a more peaceful future.
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by Michelle Hair
An American living in Paris.
For more from Michelle, visit hairquarius.com.