Anyone who has ever made it big always got their start, somewhere. For French opera singer and performer Jean-Christophe Born, that start began on stage at Sauk Prairie High School. And on Feb. 12, the Sauk Prairie area will welcome back the former exchange student in a performance at the River Arts Center.
Born, whose native country is France, spent his youth in Gabon, Africa. It was from there he traveled to the U.S., staying at the Prairie du Sac home of Linda and David Atkins. The Atkins hosted Born as a sophomore for the 1996-1997 school year at Sauk Prairie High School.
“One of my first professional performances was in Sauk Prairie’s show choir doing Jesus Christ Superstar,” Born said.
Linda Atkins, who said her family has remained in contact with Born over the years, recalled the then teenage Born as “very private” and spoke very little English “very poorly.” But, she said, Born was very smart and picked up English quickly.
“We had an interesting first semester,” Linda Atkins said. “He immediately got involved in theater and show choir. The girls loved him; he was very outgoing, adorable and bubbly. My landline was busy all the time with girls calling the house wanting to talk to Jean-Christophe.”
Once back in his native France, Born couldn’t deny his passion for the performing arts.
He attended Opera National de Strasbourg in France, and has since been in countless vocal and stage performances in more than 15 countries. “I have a big desire for creation,” Born said. “I have to express it. This way of creating a show is a way for me to exercise the people inside my head that I would love to see on stage. I am especially a fan of past and great figures of the 1900’s. I feel like through performance I could make them live again.”
Sauk Prairie High School alumni Erika Luba first met Born during his year there. The two have remained good friends and Luba is even helping Born with different aspects of his U.S. performances. It was Luba who recommended Born bring his show to the River Arts Center.
“I thought it would be a nice thing if he could come back and perform where he got his start,” Luba said of Born. “I told him about the River Arts Center and he was excited. Lindsey Giese (River Arts Executive Director) knew of Jean-Christophe through her sister.”
Luba said the show is a feel-good piece featuring a returning foreign exchange student, along with the opportunity for people to see an amazing show.
The show Born produced and will be performing in,”I’m A Good Little Devil,” is a cabaret review featuring the life of Gaby Deslys, an emancipated performer from Marseille, France, who became the most famous music hall star of the early 20th century.
Born will play a variety of roles; namely men who were an important part of Deslys’ life. “She was famous for being a mistress,” Born said. “In one role I will be her lover who was a dancer. Another time, a fan; different men that were around her.”
The show will also feature Broadway star Mark Nadler and Perrine Cabassud as Deslys.
While Born is in town for the performance, he will be reunited with his host family, as the Atkins, who now live in Middleton, have agreed to host him for the night.
Last year Born was in “Les Miserables,” which happens to be Linda Atkins favorite musical. Years ago she promised Born she’d travel to see him in a performance of “Les Miserables” if he was in it, and true to her word, the Atkins family packed up and went to France to see him perform.
“It’s very exciting this talented young man is coming back to Sauk Prairie,” Atkins said. “It’s such an honor to get this opera singer here. He is very popular in France.”
Atkins said her family’s time with Born was anything but dull. “It’s funny, when he was here he was always singing,” Linda Atkins said. “He’d sing when he got up in the morning. He’d sing in the shower. He’d sing all day long. I’m thrilled he’s coming back. He just lights up a room.”
Follow Autumn Luedke on Twitter @Apwriter1 or contact at (608) 393-5777