17 February 2011

Les Miserables

(A note of apology in advance: This is not very well written or well thought out. My computer is pretty much busted and makes it impossible to spend too long copy editing…)

I know, I know I don't post very often. But if you had any idea how many drafts I've started and abandoned!! I have trouble thinking up blog posts that would actually be interesting. Anyway...
    Les Miserables came down here for about two weeks...and they happened to be the two weeks surrounding my birthday. So my wonderful brother got tickets for us, because he knows that that's my favorite musical/story ever and I had been dropping not-so-subtle hints that I wanted to go for well...several months. (I’m not going to be summarizing the plot in any sort of cohesive way…so you’ll kind of have to be familiar with the story).

    Honestly...I think this is my favorite musical. It's hard to pick because there are so many good ones, but after seeing this one in its entirety (and not just the 10th anniversary DVD where they use microphones and Marius sweats (inter-parenthetical-parenthetical-comment: the 10th anniversary is not the one with whichever Jonas in it. Because ughhh. I mean, he actually did a pretty good job, and was probably less sweaty than Michael Ball was, but...still, it's a Jonas, and I don't want Jonases in my Les Mis. I don't really want Jonases at all, actually) ), I think it's the most satisfying, well-done, beautiful musical out there. (If you followed that last sentence...I love you).

    The first thing I saw when we walked into the theater (other than the awesome French soldiers and not-so-awesome French...ladies that were in the lobby  handing out carnations) was the set-- a gorgeous gray-toned background on which you could just barely make out a cross. Then it started, the prologue with Jean Valjean in the chain gang, and by the end of that I was already almost in tears. Valjean was perfect, even though I couldn't really see his face, his voice and acting were spot-on. The prologue concluded with Jean Valjean's redemption and the spotlight straight up lit the cross...it was beautiful.

I am reaching, but I fall / And the night is closing in / And I stare into the void / To the whirlpool of my sin / I'll escape now from the world / From the world of Jean Valjean / Jean Valjean is nothing now / Another story must begin! 

And all that's just the prologue. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed in the first half or so...  and I’m by no means a Les Mis prude. I understand that the story needs to have prostitutes in it (I’ve actually written several papers on the subject), but there was just way more innuendo and just plain…endo than was necessary, and than is even usually in the play. The plebes loved it, however, which is why they put it in I suppose. But even with all that, Fantine was perfect. She actually seemed innocent and vulnerable and made her whole situation believable (gorgeous voice too).  The scene where Jean Valjean takes Fantine in was amazingly touching— after Javert captures her, she sees him and spits in his face, blaming him for what’s happened to her. Instead of leaving her to Javert and prison, Valjean immediately apologizes, commands Javert to free her, and takes her into his own home. 

     Of course, Javert was also introduced briefly in the prologue but we didn’t see much of him until he showed up here, tracking Valjean down and mistreating Fantine. Javert’s voice and character were amazing, but he lacked the trademark sideburns that are really my favorite part of the character L
      Alright, about halfway through the first half we get to meet the Thernardiers!! Mr. Thenardier was…absolutely perfect. He was hysterical (I actually looked up the actor and it turns out he’s been on pretty much every TV show ever made), if kind of inappropriate. Young Cossette was great (I’m also sort of worried that she’s gonna mess up) and the very first scene where she meets Valjean—actually, all the scenes where she and Valjean are together—was absolutely adorable. She’s bringing the bucket of water inside and he comes to help her carry it and hums along with her to Castle on a Cloud. Awwwwwwwww. And then, once he had paid the Thernadiers, he carried her out and twirled her around. Too much adorable.

     Alright so…almost immediately, Cossette grows up. Grown-up Cossette is not nearly as adorable as Young Cossette. I mean, I’m sure she’s a wonderful person and all (she is in the book), but in the musical the only real reason we’re given to like her is that Valjean likes her. Oh, and also Marius likes her.
    Marius…sigh. Marius is perfect. I mean, he’s kind of a jerk… but not on purpose. I enjoyed hearing all the little bits of music that aren’t on my CD, like the introduction to Marius and Eponine, which comes while they’re walking through a busy street, arguing with each other.

Eponine: “ 'Ere, wotcher do with all them books? / I could have been a student too! / Don't judge a girl on how she looks. / I know a lot of things, I do!
Marius: Poor Eponine, the things you know /You wouldn't find in books like these.
Eponine: I like the way you grow your hair
Marius: I like the way you always tease
Eponine: Little he knows! / Little he sees!

Which is a great introduction, because you get an immediate idea of the characters and their relationship from just that one piece of music.  I guess now is as good a time as any to… confess? Reveal? Disclose? That, besides Jean Valjean, Eponine is my favorite character. I mean…she’s amazing. Just trust me on that…you’ll understand why soon. And she was great, playing both the humorous and the tragic sides well. And speaking of humorous/ tragic, Gavroche!!! I have to admit, usually that kid annoys me…but here, he was so tiny, so adorable, so perfect at his part…I loved him. He was amazing.

    Anyways, back to Grown-up Cossette… of course, Marius sees her and falls in love with her, and Eponine shows him the way to her house (cause Eponine’s awesome). A Heart Full of Love is one of those songs that’s way more fun to see than to hear, and that/I Saw Him Once/In My Life were beautiful and one of the very best parts.
      Enjolras was great, a trifle gangly, but great voice, and he always seems so earnest it’s impossible not to like him. Red and Black is, I think, one of the funniest and simultaneously most stirring songs in the musical…

It is time for us all / To decide who we are / Do we fight for the right / To a night at the opera now? / Have you asked of yourselves / What's the price you might pay? / Is it simply a game / For rich young boys to play? / The color of the world / Is changing day by day...

etc. A sidebar if you will: one of the most amazing parts of Les Mis is that we don’t really care about the student revolution at all. We aren’t invested in it, and if you really think about it, you’ll realize pretty quickly that it’s kind of silly. We stay interested because we’re invested in the characters—Marius, Enjolras, Gavroche, and the others—who are fighting, and we understand that it’s important enough to them to die for, and understand its connection to the French Revolution. Just thought that was interesting…. But that’s probably because it’s pretty late and my brain isn’t quite functioning.

     Anywhoozle, so we now have Thernardier discovering the house at Rue Plumet, ‘Ponine saving the day, and Cossette and Valjean leaving. So Marius decides to fight with the students (and I mean “with” as in, “ally himself with”, not “get into a fight with”).
    Alright, I’ll admit…this was the first part to actually make me cry. I mean…I love Marius. I love him. But it’s really, really hard to watch this part and like him. Eponine comes to the barricade to be with him, and he sends her with a letter for Cossette and while she’s delivering it, she gets shot. I MEAN SERIOUSLY WHO DOES THAT. And how is Eponine so awesome?? How does she not throw the letter in his face and say, “I’m not delivering anything to your ditzy blond girlfriend!! Can’t you see everything I’ve done for you???” But, as it turns out, Eponine is awesome. And then she dies in his arms.

Don’t you fret, M’siuer Marius / I don’t feel any pain / A little fall of rain / Can hardly hurt me now / You’re here, that’s all I need to know / And you will keep me safe / and You will keep me close / and rain will make the flowers grow.

The revolutionaries honor her as the first fallen, and treat her as a sort of inspiration to them all… which again shows how very little anyone cares about the student revolution. Eponine wasn’t fighting for liberty, she was at the barricade because even though “I know this is no place for me, / still I would rather be with you”. Anyway, Eponine’s death is one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever seen.

   Valjean comes when he sees the letter and realizes that Cossette loves Marius. He stands by the boys and helps them fight and refuses to kill Javert when he has the chance, setting him free. Most of the boys (including Gavroche L ) are killed, and Marius is injured. The iconic walk through the sewer was amazing. They used a…film? I guess? On a kind of projector… I know nothing about theater sets, does it show? Anyway, the picture in the background was moving and it looked awesome and there was fog and everything and Valjean’s pretty darn heroic.

     The one other breathtaking special effect was Javert’s suicide, which I assumed from the CD would just be him leaping offstage or behind a prop bridge. But what they did was, when he sings, “There is no way to go ooooooooon” the screen behind him moves so it looks like he’s falling, and we see him drown.
      Another of those sweet scenes that isn’t on the CD (I have the Original Broadway Cast Recording, but I actually downloaded this song from the London Cast after I saw it because it’s so sweet) is right after Marius is back from the barricades…it’s a reprise of A Heart Full of Love, but with Valjean taking Eponine’s place.

Cosette: I saw you waiting and I knew.
Marius: Waiting for you / At your feet
Cosette: At your call
Both: And it wasn't a dream / Not a dream after all
Valjean (interjecting, to himself): She was never mine to keep. / She is youthful, she is free. / Love is the garden of the young / Let it be... let it be... / A heart full of love / This I give you on this day.

     And then of course, there’s the wedding, the lovely wedding where Marius learns all that Valjean has done for them, and they arrive at his house just before his death (by the way, Valjean’s death was the other part that made me cry). And when he dies, all the characters we’ve seen die throughout the play come out, starting with Fantine, who is joined by Eponine…

Take my hand / and lead me to salvation / Take my love / For love is everlasting / And remember the truth that once was spoken / To love another person is to see the face of God….

     And then they all come in, all the boys from the barricade and all the other characters, with a hopeful reprise of Do You Hear the People Sing.

    So…all in all, it was amazing, and this doesn’t even begin to do it justice. It was entirely sung, with only two lines of dialogue spoken (“General LeMarc is dead” and “Long live the Republic!” if you were wondering). It retains all of the redemptive qualities of the book and even strengthens some of them. I have to say…amazing, amazing play. Probably you should just go see it instead of reading my dumb thoughts on it!!