Monday, March 21, 2016

RED - the blood of angry men - BLACK - the dark of ages past - RED - the world about to dawn - BLACK - the night that ends at last

Friday a week ago four friends and I spent the night in London to kick off our Spring Break trip. Anastasia, Elisa, and Katherine went to see Phantom of the Opera on the West End. Paige and I saw Les Miserables. (Which is why this joint add in the Underground was perfect.)

We saw it in Queen's Theater, where it has had a nonstop run since it opened - 30 years ago. We had just finished our finals week, so it only hit us that we were going to see Les Mis as we were walking up to the theater, at which point we started giggling pretty uncontrollably from excitement. 

When the show was over, we did not talk. We were two of the last people out of the balcony. We still didn't talk for the whole thirty minute commute to Paddington Station. As we walked from the station to our hostel, our conversation went like this:

"What are we going to say when the others ask us how it was?"
"I have no idea."
"Me neither."

It was that good.

Honestly, I had been wondering if this was a good idea. I've seen Les Miserables in London before, and I know the original Broadway cast recording backwards and forwards. I asked myself whether I really wanted to see it again or whether this was just something to do because I was in London.

Those questions disappeared the moment I walked into the theater and saw the projection of Cosette. 

The odd thing about this production is that it wasn't perfect. There were things that bugged and distracted me (Cosette being at the top of that list). But on the whole I was more moved by this production than I remember ever being by a stage show. I think part of that has to do with the fact that after seeing this in London eight years ago I went home and read the whole book - all 1400 pages of it - and then read it again a couple of years later for school. So what I saw on stage was only part of the experience this time, and much of the power came from memories sparked of Victor Hugo's insightful examination of the psychology of different characters in the course of the book, which were cemented in my mind by two readings.

{all photos of the cast are from the Les Miserables Official Website}
The cast on the whole was good (as one would expect from a show on the West End). The actors carried their roles well, and each one had a moment or two where they just nailed it. 

Moments that stood out:

The line "and the sun in the morning is ready to rise" from "At the End of the Day" was breathtaking and accompanied by perfect lighting. I've always loved the beginning of that song and the ensemble was marvelous.

Some of the orchestration was different, which was a tiny bit distracting but also fascinating. I want to try to get my hands on a newer recording and actually compare the orchestration with the original. When I mentioned that to Paige, she responded with surprise that I know the show so well, a comment she repeated a week later when she heard me humming "Hey, little boy, what's this I see? God, Eponine, the things you do..." and noted my familiarity with more obscure bits rather than a basic knowledge of choruses. Having friends who are waaaaay more into theater than I am has made me forget that my level of knowledge isn't necessarily paltry.

Any moment with Jean Valjean and Javert together onstage was a highlight. Aside from the sheer weight of the story, the actors had a great chemistry that took the show to a whole new level.
The bishop was amazing. He moved with a striking deliberateness that was quite memorable. 

The way they used touch in this production was incredibly powerful. The bishop reaches out to touch Jean Valjean - and he shrinks away. Valjean holds Fantine at her death scene, and of course Marius holds Eponine for "A Little Fall of Rain." What stood out to me was the realization that up until this point, the only physical contact with other people that the social outcasts Valjean, Fanzine, and Eponine had had for a very long time was abusive, and at these pivotal moments, they are finally touched with compassion - literally.

Frankly, Jean Valjean made the show. Peter Lockyer played the role with a dignity and gentleness that set him far above the rest of the cast, as good as they were. His portrayal of Valjean tapped into the better handle I have on his character from reading the book and ultimately reduced me to a blubbering puddle of tears at the end of the show. "Who Am I" brought into my mind all the torment that Valjean went through on the journey to Arras. The scenes at the barricade were all the more poignant knowing that Valjean was saving someone who would take away Cosette and his earthly happiness. 

What really got me - partly because it was unexpected since it isn't on my recording - is the reprise of "A Heart Full of Love" when Valjean takes Eponine's line and changes it to "She was never mine to keep." From then on it was snuffling and digging for kleenex, as I watched the heartbreak of Valjean slowly weaning himself from Cosette's presence and literally dying of a broken heart. And that's not even to mention the reprise of "Bring Him Home," when Valjean is talking about being brought into God's presence at last. Talk about something close to my heart. 

The show took me a good twenty-four hours to process. Something I mulled over is the weird time-warp in theatre. Had I been reading the book I would have put it down often and gone away to think over a particular scene before returning to it. But that's not possible in theater. Things happen at dizzying speed, and comedy follows pathos and intermingles with profundity in a way that is overwhelming. I now remember why I went home after seeing this in London years ago and read the book. In fact, Les Miserables (round three) is now on my reading list for the summer.

There is so much more I could say, but I think I will leave it at that. 

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