I’m a bad person.
My colleague/friend told our entire PCA team that she planned on writing her December 25th Buzz Blog on Les Miserables, which will be released nationwide that day. But I went to an advance screening last Tuesday and I’m going to scoop her by four days. Sorry, Emily.
In my defense, I have a long history with Les Miz and she’s never even seen the stage production. Besides, there’s enough to say about it to fill multiple blogs, so let’s consider this part one of a two-parter from disparate points of view.
I was a college student spending a semester in London in the fall of 1985 when the Cameron Mackintosh musical production of Victor Hugo’s classic novel made its debut. It opened at the Barbican Theatre there in October and moved to the Palace Theatre on December 5th. I was walking by the Palace in mid-December and noticed the queue for a matinee performance. I had a vague notion that the show was getting some buzz so I decided to see if I could get a ticket. I barely had two ha’pennies to rub together, but I managed to score a single student ticket for five pounds. 7th row center.
I’ve seen a lot of amazing plays and musicals since, but that afternoon will always rank at the top of my all time best theatrical experiences. The revolving set, the memorable score, the endearing characters… it all blew me away. I was held rapt during “At the End of the Day,” belly laughed during “Master of the House,” sobbed during “On My Own,” and got chills during “One Day More.” And I joined in the applause when the Paris slum set magically folded onto itself to become the barricade. You know a show is connecting with its audience when you applaud for a set change.
Many of my London chums also saw that original production, and we returned to our senior year with the soundtrack cassette purchased from the Virgin Megastore in Piccadilly Circus. My roommates and I would belt out “Red and Black” in our off campus apartment while drinking cheap beer before heading out to a party. Along with Elvis Costello and The Talking Heads, Les Miz played an integral role in the soundtrack of my college years. Let the record show that I’m fully aware of how weird that must sound. I guess you had to be there.
I saw the L.A. production, the Chicago production and the Broadway version of Les Miserables several times. I eventually upgraded from that cassette to the CD of the Original London Cast recording, and I proudly made a donation to PBS so I could get the DVD of the 25th Anniversary Concert they were promoting for one of their fundraising drives a couple of years ago. I quoted the lyric “to love another person is to see the face of God” during my best man toast at my friends’ Norb and Molly’s wedding. And when I saw the movie last week — filled with high expectations — I was anything but disappointed. It’s both grandly theatrical and incredibly intimate. But since the movie hasn’t been officially released yet, I’ll leave the commentary and review to Emily for Christmas Day.
One might say I’m obsessed. I suppose I am. I know plenty of people who share my passion for Les Miserables and I even know a few haters. I feel bad for them.
When Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera were both playing to sell out crowds on Broadway, it was common to debate over which show was better. It was the late ’80s Great White Way version of Team Peeta vs. Team Gale, if you will. As my friend Kate once said, “Les Miz vs. Phantom? Puh-lease! No one walks out of Phantom wanting to be a better person.” So true.
Seeing the movie last week once again inspired me to be a better person. Except when it comes to bogarting Emily’s blog topic.
Russell Crowe as Javert
Anne Hathaway as Fantine
Hugh Jackman Jean Valjean
Amanda Seyfried as Cosette