Chatting with my friend, yesterday, at lunch our conversation turned to Les Miserables. It’s my all-time favorite operetta.
In the summer of 1986, I had the opportunity to live in England. It was an amazing experience. I lived with family friends that I called “aunt” and “uncle.” He served in the RAF, training in Arizona. She was no shrinking violet. They took me sightseeing and introduced me to their friends. I was treated like a princess. For those who are acquainted with me here, you can imagine how novel the experience was for me.
One of the couples had a son a couple years younger than myself. He played timpani in the London Philharmonic, if I remember rightly. It’s been a while. They bought tickets for him to take me to see the musical Cats. It was fun. They also bought tickets so they could take me to the newest musical rage. They didn’t know much about it, as it only showed up in West End in 1985, but it was supposed to be the best musical ever. Their son complained about not being a part of our outing. They were amusingly unsympathetic.
They took me to see Les Mis, the original London cast. I cried and laughed and cheered and loved it.
A year after I returned home to America, the Kennedy Center broadcasted a special on television and included the newest, up and coming musical on Broadway, Les Mis. It opened on Broadway in 1987. Colm Wilkinson sang “Bring Him Home.” I stood there watching and cried. Goodness. I cry thinking about it.
Colm Wilkinson will always be my first Jean Valjean. I hear his voice in my head when any of his songs play. It was fun seeing him play the Bishop in the movie version. Having said that, I enjoyed other Jean Valjeans, 24601. Yes, I still know his number. I hear him sing it with such power and despair.
Overall, I was disappointed in the movie version. Most of all by Javert. In the movie, he is indecisive, angry, an overall nasty, despicable character. He lacked strength of character. On the other hand, Roger Allam played Javert in the musical, and though he wasn’t a likable character because of his unwillingness to bend, he was powerful and I felt for him. Roger Allam played a man who was driven by his absolute, immovable, unquestionable certainty of rightness. You learn his history and understand his unyielding devotion to the law. It’s sad he lacks compassion. He is so lacking he doesn’t understand it when it’s given to him. He broke my heart.
I was also disappointed in the movie’s Fantine. The movie went for over-the-top, in-your-face, while the musical implied. I didn’t need it spelled out for me, and it took me out of the story in my effort to put some distance between me and the blatant ugliness. I wish Hollywood would recapture the art of Hitchcock’s implications without stating outright. Hollywood has completely lost the concept of subtle. I also confess she isn’t a favorite character. She’s a part of the story. I’m sad for her.
Eponine sings a couple of songs I love. As far as love is concerned, I identify with her. There was a time when I felt like my role in my friends’ lives was to see them happily married off. Always a bridesmaid. Now, I’m able to say I’m grateful. I was nowhere near my truth campaign yet.
A very young Michael Ball will always be my Marius. He was decidedly my favorite. I follow him on social media and listen to bits of his performances on YouTube. In truth, he’s only a few months older than me, and Les Mis was his debut. I’ll always be grateful I was privileged to see him.
The slimy master of the house and his icky wife again were so over-the-top in the movie I wanted to be ill. In the musical they were despicable characters, but they also provided a touch of humor, something completely lacking in the movie.
Cossette, Enjolras, and Gavroche didn’t make as much of an impression on me… well, except on the wall. I wasn’t attached to a particular actor for those parts.
As amazing as the set was, the star of the show was the music.
I will never forget the feeling deep in my chest when the Bishop tells Jean Valjean, “I have bought your soul for God.” And yes, it still makes me cry.
Jean Valjean’s “Bring Him Home” also unearths deep emotions. The Piano Guys posted, on their FB page, their version of the song as a tribute on Memorial Day.
Eponine’s pretending Marius is with her spoke to my heart for all the romances I pretended were mine. I went so far as to singing it in a talent show.
When I listen to my CDs there are a few songs I skip. Though they fit the story, they don’t uplift me. They’re so hopeless, even as they’re attempting to be funny. But there are only a couple I skip on the two-disc set.
Once the show started touring, every time it came here I bought two tickets, one for me and one for someone else. I was still working for the airline, so I could afford it. Most were quite good, but none like the first.
I’ve enjoyed a number of musicals since, but none delves into my soul in quite the same way. Blessedly, I’m able to enjoy them without lamenting they aren’t Les Mis. 🙂