WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link

Les Misérables lyricist Herbert Kretzmer has died

The man was behind the English lyrics to "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"

Herbert Kretzmer
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Les Misérables lyricist Herbert Kretzmer has died, it was confirmed by family and friends online.

Born in South Africa in 1925, the journalist and lyricist moved to London in the 1950s to pursue a career in the UK. He worked for as profile writer for the Sunday Dispatch and the Daily Express (where he later became senior drama critic for 18 years).

In terms of lyrics, Kretzmer penned pieces for for the BBC's That Was The Week That Was, before moving onto stage projects such as Our Man Crichton and The Four Musketeers.

This preceded Kretzmer's work on the English version of the titanic hit Les Misérables, which continue to run to this day. Augmenting the French words (and in the process pushing the two-hour musical into a three-hour epic), Kretzmer received Tony and Grammy awards for his contributions. He was later nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for 2012 tune "Suddenly", added into the Les Mis film.

More recently, the lyricist worked on musicals such as Marguerite , which was nominated for an Evening Standard Award, as well as Kristina, which was seen at Carnegie Hall in 2009.

Les Mis producer Cameron Mackintosh said: "It is terribly sad to hear that the great Herbert Kretzmer passed away last night after a period of illness. His wonderful words for Les Misérables will live on in his memory forever more and the Christmas season at the Sondheim will be all the more poignant for all of us as we hear the people sing without having him there. God bless you, Herbie."

Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg said: "There will no longer be three of us taking a bow on stage when Cameron introduces ‘the creators of Les Misérables!' Herbert Kretzmer sadly passed away last night. Herbie was a vibrant, hard-working man, but above all a man with an exceptional moral force as well as a brilliant lyricist.

"Thanks to him, Les Misérables found its English voice - Herbie embraced our original version and turned it into a work that speaks to the rest of the world. On his 90th birthday, he stood on the stage of the Queen's Theatre, by then already frail, to receive a standing ovation! There is no doubt that we, along with the public, will continue to clap for him again and again, thankful for his talent. Herbie may no longer be present, but he will always be here with us as there is more than a little bit of Jean Valjean in him."

Responses have come in online: