Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables, breathless delight

So here's the scoop: I've been keeping something from you for the past few weeks. Back in early December, when the movie premiere was under way and press junkets were all the rage for the Les Misérables cast, I was given the opportunity to be present at a preview and a press conference for the film. I saw it a few weeks early, I had a chance to interact with some of the actors and I got to write a bit on it.

To be honest, I don't know how happy I am yet with the finished product of my article on the Les Misérables film. It hasn't been published yet, so I won't step on my own copy, but because I had the chance to watch the movie again today with my father, and see it like a normal fan rather than a critic, I thought it might be nice to trace my obsession with Les Mis. It has been a long-lived and passionate interest, supported by the mutual love of the musical amongst my friends. And here's where I'm going to tell you about it.

Maybe if you do get a chance to read my article on the film version, this will confirm that I am in fact an avid fan of the musical, in case that aspect doesn't come across as well as it should in my writing on it.

My first experience with Les Mis occurred similarly to most. That is, it happened in a theater. It was my first trip to London in the summer of 2007. It was an influential trip in general, sculpting my overall Anglophilia and fascination with life and culture in the capitol of England. But it also reinstated my Broadway-loving spirit. It had first been provoked when I was in elementary school with the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, later reinspired by seeing a production of Wicked on Broadway with original cast member Idina Menzel. A brief lull (with continued admiration of the craft) would then be interrupted by and forever changed by Les Misérables.

It is my firm belief that this a show you should eventually see on the London stage. While subsequent productions I've seen have been acceptable, nothing ever amazed me so much as that first viewing of Les Mis on the West End.

My dad took me to the show because he thought it was an appropriate musical to see in London. I was happy with anything, so I let him choose what we might see when we arrived there in 2007. I didn't know what I was in for.

I came out of the theater begging for more. Though I had sobbed like a lunatic for half the performance - *Attention, spoilers in the next sentence - move past the parentheses if you're unprepared* *(first a bit at Fantine's death, followed by Eponine's, Gavroche's and Jean Valjean's) and also physically jumped out of my seat at *attention, another spoiler until the next full stop/period* the sound of gunshots when Gavroche was killed - I had been so moved and so excited by the show, that  I needed to be placed back in that heightened sense of enthusiasm once again.

My friend Kristin had serendipitously just been to New York City and seen the Broadway production of Les Mis. We grew in our excitement together, and when I returned back to the states from London, the show became our mutual obsession.

Together, Kristin and I sang "Confrontation," exchanging the parts of Valjean and Javert. We would collaborate on the part when Fantine, Eponine and Valjean come together to sing during "Finale." The harmonies drove us wild and in the same way we loved to perform "What is This Feeling?" from Wicked together, we felt a mutual satisfaction in singing it together.

Though over time my obsession with Les Mis wavered ever-so-slightly, I remember quite vividly walking between classes in high school listening to the soundtrack. I'd feel valiant and prideful listening to "Do You Hear the People Sing?" in the passing period between Geometry and Japanese. "In My Life/A Heart Full of Love" would fill me with wistful hopefulness during breaks in English.

If I remember correctly, it was my sophomore year when I got involved with Les Misérables again on an even more personal level. For a Concert Choir assignment, my friends and I were forced into finding songs in foreign languages to sing and be graded on by our teacher. While some people chose arias in Italian and a few of my closest friends picked Disney songs to learn various translations of, I decided to go to the original language of the musical I had loved for so long in a language that I also loved.

This was my first insight not only into the music of Les Misérables in French, but into the French language itself. At this point, I was a couple years into the Japanese language in high school. I'd always wanted to learn French, but never had the opportunity. I would a few years later, though, and during that brief stint of learning Français, would realize what a surprisingly valuable experience it was to memorize the lyrics to "Mon Histoire" ("On My Own" in French).

My friends still cite the experience of singing those foreign Disney songs as one of their silliest and most unforgettable high school memories. They claim that they forgot most of the lyrics during the recitation and performance, but since they had chosen songs in German and Japanese, it wasn't entirely obvious to our teacher at the time.

I, on the other hand, spent hours and hours and days upon days memorizing "Mon Histoire." I listened to YouTube videos of original cast recordings of the song. I watched people perform it live so I could see how their lips moved when they pronounced the words. I read the lyrics and sang along to karaoke recordings.

To this day, I can still sing the entire chanson without fail, without a mistake in the words.

I got an A- on the performance, but received the greatest gift ever from an assignment - a renewed obsession in something I loved.

Another lull in my interest in Les Mis occurred for the rest of high school and into college, until freshman year at university when one of our dorm-wide outings was to a theater in Chicago to see Les Mis on stage.

Because of my years of loving the musical, I felt somehow entitled to win a ticket to see it with my dorm. I didn't win. Instead, when my friends went out to see Les Mis, I went by myself to watch a musical on campus called Tick...Tick...Boom! (written by Jonathan Larson, who is one of my favorite playwrights and Broadway composers, for his autobiographical work in Tick...Tick...Boom! as well as for his renowned work in Rent). My dad was coming into town shortly after, and on a whim I searched for tickets to Les Mis.

We managed to snag front row seats. And I was reunited with one of the best musicals of all time.

Fast forward to a little over a month ago. I'm sitting in my room in London and I read an email from the film editor at a publication at my study abroad institution. It calls any readers out to submit their name toward a random drawing for an opportunity to attend an early screening and press conference of Les Mis.

I sent an excited email saying that I'd be interested in the opportunity. Then I realized my abruptness meant I'd forgotten to include necessary logistical information. I supplied that secondly. I was then reminded that these editors didn't know who I was, so I wrote another email clarifying that I have written about theater and film before for other publications.

And I guess my eagerness paid off, because I was the first person I know to see the film in its entirity. And it was beautiful.

After years of obsessing over Les Mis, I'm so glad it's getting the recognition it deserves now even from people who aren't traditionally interested in musical theater. As someone who considers Les Mis an institution of her teenagehood and adulthood (it's been a kind friend these five years), I will always hold a special place in my heart for the musical. I will also always gain just an extra ounce of respect for anyone who can appreciate it like I do.

So that's my Les Misérables story. I'd be interested to hear the stories of others, because mine started pretty ordinarily and ended up extraordinarily.

And with that I'll end with a quote from a song in the musical (and film) that used to bore me and has slowly warmed its way into my heart:

"Had you been there tonight, you might know how it feels to be struck to the bone in a moment of breathless delight. Had you been there tonight, you might also have known how the world may be changed in just one burst of light; and what was right seems wrong, and what was wrong seems right."

That line, sung by Marius in "Red and Black," has everything to do with how Les Mis made me feel on that one evening in the summer of 2007 and another evening in the winter of 2012. Les Mis has really set my soul on fire (then and once again).

No comments:

Post a Comment