Monday, January 30, 2012

Do You Hear the People Sing?

(Slightly more informative title: My Review of Les Miserables, The Musical)

One day to a new beginning
Raise the flag of freedom high
Every man will be a king, every man will be a king!
There's a new world for the winning
There's a new world to be won!
Do you hear the people sing? 

(In actual fact, nothing in particular is happening tomorrow [for me at least] other than school, chores, more school, blog-hopping, and did I mention school?  Also exercising while listening to the Les Miserables cast album.  Er-hrm.  But I adore these lyrics and so even though I'm not waiting "one day more" for anything special, I decided to post those anyway.)

I'm studying World Literature this year in school, and the sixth unit in my textbook (I use Excellence in Literature, FYI) is a study on Victor Hugo's classic, mammoth novel Les Miserables.  I read the book (well, the 642-page Borders edition, heehee), studied the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and wrote two essays about the book... and then I watched the musical's 10th Anniversary DVD with my sister.  One of my assignments was to "watch a live production of the musical, if possible, or at least get a copy of the DVD" and naturally I was happy to comply.  (Last year, in British Literature, I had no problem fulfilling the assignment to watch Pride and Prejudice 1995, either. :))

I recently promised a friend that I would write her a less-than-300-word summary of Les Miz--so she would have at least a basic understanding of what I've been nattering on about lately--and I thought I'd post it here so those of you who are unfamiliar with the story will also have a basic understanding. :)  I shall try my best to stay within 300 words--but song lyrics don't count, right?  Right? Right??? Good.  Song lyrics will be enclosed in quotation marks.  (There are some young readers on this blog, so I'm going to be very discreet about some aspects of the story... just so ya know...)  Also, I absolutely cannot resist sharing some of the amazing songs with you, so there will be links to videos here and there that I really recommend you watch. :) Unfortunately, I can't embed them here because YouTube restricts playback blah blah blah.   Oh! And spoilers will abound because I'm summarizing the entire story.  Be aware of this.

Colm Wilkinson as Valjean and Philip Quast as Javert in the 10th Anniversary Dream Cast in Concert
The story revolves around Jean Valjean (Colm Wilkinson, "prisoner 24601"), a galley slave convicted and sentenced to 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.  When he is put on parole by police officer Inspector Javert (Philip Quast), he takes refuge in the house of kind Bishop Myriel (some actor whose name I'm not bothering to look up) and then steals the Bishop's candlesticks.  The Bishop, however, does not press charges and instead encourages Valjean to "use this precious silver to become a better man."

Valjean breaks his parole, moves to a small town, gets a job in the factory and eventually rises to the position of mayor.  Ten years later, a woman named Fantine (Ruthie Henshall) comes to his attention: she is working as a woman of the town to provide for her daughter, whom she cannot care for.  Dying of tuberculosis, Fantine begs Valjean to rescue her daughter from the cruel people who have her now.  "I swear this on my life... [your Cosette] shall live within my protection.  Your child shall want for nothing! And none shall ever harm Cosette as long as I am living."
Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean
Inspector Javert, who suspected that Valjean (now "Monsieur Madeleine") might be an escaped convict, changes his mind when a man matching Valjean's description is arrested and sentenced to death in another town.  Distraught that another man is going to die because of his crime, Valjean reveals his true identity to Javert ("And so, Javert, you see it's true; that man bears no more guilt than you! Who am I? 24601!") and then escapes to rescue Cosette from the disgusting Thenardiers (Jeremiah Flintwinch--I mean Inspector Bucket--I mean Alun Armstrong--and Jenny Galloway), innkeepers who treat Cosette as a slave.

Philip Quast as Inspector Javert
Valjean takes Cosette (Judy Kuhn) to Paris and brings her up as his own daughter, telling her nothing of his past, though Javert is still on his trail and "never shall yield till [they] come face to face... this [he] swears by the stars!" ("Stars" by Philip Quast at the 10th Anniversary Concert)

Meanwhile, the lives of Marius Pontmercy (Michael Ball), a law student, and Gavroche (Adam Searles), a street urchin (squee! favorite character!), are about to become intertwined.  (And meanwhile, Miss Dashwood realizes that there's no way she's going to stay under 300 words and says "forget it, Melody!") Marius is part of the Friends of the ABC, a revolutionary group who dream of someday bringing freedom to the people of France, because "the color of the world is changing day by day! Red, the blood of angry men... black, the dark of ages past! Red, a world about to dawn... black, the night that ends at last!" 

Lea Salonga as Eponine Thenardier
Marius sees Cosette from a distance and falls in love with her (and vice versa).  Eponine Thenardier (Lea Salonga), daughter of the people who once abused Cosette, is also in love with Marius, but he is absolutely blind as a bat about this (and Miss Dashwood realllllly hates Marius at this point in the story.  Temporarily, that is.)  Eponine brings Marius to meet Cosette, but Eponine's father's gang of thieves hear about Valjean's presence in Paris and plan to rob and murder Valjean.

Eponine stops them in time, but Valjean hears the commotion and decides to get Cosette out of Paris.  "We must get away from shadows that will never let us be... tomorrow to Calais and then a ship across the sea!" (okay, was I the only one who thought, "A ship at Calais? THE DAY DREAM!!" Once more Sir Percy saving the day!) Act One ends with everyone waiting just one day more until their world will change.

Enjolras (Michael Maguire), the leader of the ABC students, is planning an attack (this is all happening during the Paris Rebellion of 1832, in case you're wondering) and Marius decides to stay with his friends and fight in their barricade. The first attack begins, and Javert comes to spy on the students.  Thanks to the sharp Gavroche (yesss! "We may be easy pickings, but we've got SOME FIGHT!") he is unmasked and sentenced to die. Marius sends Eponine with a letter to Cosette, saying he'll always love her, and Eponine--deserted by her father and now completely "on her own"--takes it, but is fatally wounded by a stray gunshot.  Then ensues the saddest scene in the entire musical, the one that had me sobbing my eyes out... "A Little Fall of Rain."  Okay, so maybe it's not the saddest scene in the whole entire musical (there are several competing for THAT place) but it's making me tear up just writing about it... ugh.  And now I like Marius again.
Michael Ball as Marius and Lea Salonga as Eponine
And after Eponine's death, the sad scenes just. keep. coming.  Fiddler on the Roof is a barrel of laughs compared to Les Miserables, believe me.  Valjean reads the letter Marius sent to Cosette and goes to the barricade to try and protect Marius, praying that God will "bring him home".  "He's like the son I might have known, if God had granted me a son... if I die, let me die--let him live--bring him home!" You have to listen to both versions of this song: Colm Wilkinson sings it in the musical, but you are really missing out if you don't hear Michael Crawford's version too.

The next morning, Valjean asks permission to deal with the spy, and Enjolras tells him to execute Javert and get it over with... but Valjean lets Javert go.  ("Vengeance was his, but he gave [Javert] back his life.") The second attack on the barricade begins and everybody is killed except Marius and Valjean.  Even Gavroche.  (WHY???)  "The Second Attack" on the barricade (also known as "Death of Gavroche") is mercifully not included on the DVD, because if it were I would have run out of tissues.  I think I sobbed through the entire second act.  But then I saw it later on YouTube.  If you really want to... here. (And do not ask me why people in the audience laughed at the first shot. o.O)

Marius is not killed, but he is shot and knocked out, so Valjean takes him through the streets (and the sewers!) of Paris to find a doctor (despite running into the evil Thenardier, who thinks Valjean has murdered Marius and is trying to hide the body).  He meets Javert, begs him to let Marius go home before he deals with Valjean, and Javert lets him go.  His whole world shaken and crumbling with this new idea of forgiveness, Javert drowns himself.

Marius recovers and is reunited with Cosette, but he is still mourning the death of Eponine, Enjolras and the other Friends of the ABC.  "There's a grief that can't be spoken; there's a pain goes on and on... empty chairs at empty tables, now my friends are dead and gone."  Cosette and Marius are married, but Valjean feels obligated to reveal his past to Marius. He promises to go away and never see Cosette again, and Marius doesn't try to stop him.  (Then Miss Dashwood punches out Marius.  Ooh, wait, was that not in the script? Sorry.) The Thenardiers crash the wedding and tell Marius that Valjean is a murderer (and Marius realizes that it was Valjean who saved his life--Marius himself was the "murdered man!") and Marius punches out Thenardier (and Miss Dashwood apologizes to Marius and gets him a Band-Aid).  Stricken with remorse, Marius and Cosette go to Valjean and stay with him as he dies... and the entire cast reassembles for the Epilogue, a reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing?".

Well.  That was my summary.  It was long, I know.  But it was shorter than Wikipedia's summary, so I'm satisfied. :)

Now on to my thoughts about this bee-yoo-tee-full musical.  Like I said, it's sad.  Really sad.  Very, very sad.  But there is also an underlying current of hope, love and redemption.  If I had to pick just one theme to describe Les Miz, it would be forgiveness.

There is, as yet, no movie version of Les Miserables (the musical).  This DVD is Les Miserables in concert, which means that it's just the actors in costume singing the songs from the musical.  Since there are thirty-some songs (depending on the version you see) it takes over two hours to do the whole thing.  Les Miserables is sung-through, which means that almost the entire story is sung.  The (very little) dialogue is spoken over music.  So in watching the concert, you can get almost the entire story (and they provide subtitles on the screen between songs to summarize what's going on).

These are just a few of the things I loved about Les Miz:

  • Colm Wilkinson's gorgeous voice.  He IS Valjean.  Alfie Boe is good... but...
  • Philip Quast's epicness in the role of Javert.  Role... nonsense.  He IS Javert.
  • Lea Salonga.  Nobody else can do Eponine. Period.
  • Michael Ball as the perfect Marius (even if he was a little too old).  Nick Jonas? Forget it.
  • Adam Searles' adorableness as Gavroche. ("Listen to ME! Listen, everybody!") Okay, so he's, like, 30 now and probably not adorable anymore.  Hush.  
  • The gorgeous lighting, costumes, and overall awesomeness.
  • The "Do You Hear the People Sing?" encore reprise with 17 Valjeans from productions around the world.  Amazing.

Here's what I didn't like about the 10th Anniversary concert DVD:

  • ......

Okay, so there were a couple of things I didn't like. :)  Since this was the 10th anniversary, several members of the original cast were a little too old for their parts.  Judy Kuhn (Cosette) was 37, and Cosette is supposed to be 18.  But she has an amazing voice, so it's all good. :)  There are a couple of songs that I did not appreciate (one of which, "Lovely Ladies", we skipped entirely). The song "Master of the House" sung by the Thenardiers, is funny in some parts ("charge 'em for the mice, extra for the lice, two percent for lookin' in the mirror twice") but it contains some rather foul language and I'd recommend just skipping it entirely.

But other than those few little bitty things, this DVD is awesomely, absolutely amazing and thou needst to get thee to the library (or Netflix or Blockbuster) to order it right now.

Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes! Tomorrow we'll discover what our God in heaven has in store... one more dawn, one more day, one day more!


Katy-Anne said...

I LOVE Les Mis. Book and musical. I'm reading it for school right now. I was supposed to read the abridged version to save time, but after noticing key elements that were cut out (I read the whole thing a few years ago) I ditched that idea and am now blissfully reading the whole thing. It is amazing. And the musical is just as good. I've been going around singing it nonstop, to my family's great (not) delight. :P

Miss Dashwood said...

My copy of the book has all the key elements... I think they just drastically cut the parts about the Paris Rebellion and the Battle of Waterloo to save space. I flipped through a copy of the Real Thing and the language looked pretty much the same, other than that. I was really glad because I didn't want to find out I'd been reading something that was dumbed-down. :)
Someday I do want to read the whole thing... but for now the musical's enough. Isn't it just awesome? Which version did you see?

Alexandra said...

This most makes me sooo happy. Almost as much as the TSP review made me happy.

I am very happy. ;-)

-Colm *is* Valjean. Period.
-Philip is totally Javert (he's my brother's favorite character)
-While he's not technically my favorite, Michael Ball has the most *incredible* voice on the planet. I mean, like, the power in it. Like, at the end when the whole ensemble is singing w/the 17 Valjeans you can still hear his voice above everyone else. WOW. Nick Jonas is a disgrace to the role of Marius.

Have you heard Michael Crawford's version of I Dreamed a Dream? Yeah, it's technically a gal song, but he does a great job. I love his Bring Him Home, too. :-)

Yep, pretty much amazing. Fantine is my favorite character (Come to Me is incredible), but Little Fall of Rain is *so gorgeous*...Eponine's definitely my second-favorite character (And Ruthie and Lea are amazing...although I did like Lea's Fantine in the 25th anniversary, too...but she's the best Eponine)

Love, love, love! So glad you liked it!!!

And TSP/Anthony Andrews-related trivia for the day (because I'm an endless supply of knowledge in that area...*cough*): He narrated the 21st anniversary concert that was broadcast on the BBC radio. I wish i had the link here with me, but they've got several of the songs on YouTube with bits of him narrating parts (he basically did like, the equivalent of the subtitles in the DVD since the concert was on the radio). That made me very happy, too. :-P If I find the link I'll be sure to send 'em along... :-)

Sarah said...

I understand how you feel about Eponine-when I reached that scene in the book, I cried my eyes out! I realllly think that Marius should have married her rather then Cosette. : (

Miss Dashwood said...

Don't you think Colm Wilkinson could play Tevye in Fiddler, too?
Javert is my sister's favorite character. Actually he ties with Enjolras in her book.
I adore Michael Ball's voice, although my sister and I like to poke a little fun at the way he throws his head back when he sings. She says he's playing limbo under the empty chairs and empty tables. :P But still, WOW.
Heehee, I've seen a lot of "Nick Jonas is a disgrace to Marius" comments but I can't say I totally agree... while he's nowhere near as good as Michael Ball, I wouldn't say he's awful. (Plus I've never heard him sing anything but Les Miz, so I can't really judge...)Did you ever see him as Gavroche when he was younger? Absolutely perfect. He shouldn't have gotten any older.
I'll have to look up Michael Crawford's I Dreamed a Dream.
I'm slowly watching the 25th in bits and pieces on YouTube... Lea Salonga is amazing as Fantine but I still think I like Ruthie better.
Wow, this comment's getting long... I think when I finish the 25th I'll post a (veddy biased) comparison. ;)
Sir Percy meets Les Miserables???? *swoon* Haha, I can just hear him... "Sink me, the students have built a barricade! Javert is spying among their ranks--what an atrocious cravat, the man's an imbecile." :P

Miss Dashwood said...

I actually wasn't really affected by Eponine's death in the book, though when Gavroche was shot I absolutely broke down. But then when Eponine died in the musical... wow. I have never cried so much over a song in a musical.
You know, it's so tragic that Marius didn't love Eponine and didn't realize that she loved him until she died, but I'm not sure if it ever crossed my mind that "he should have married her". I don't know why, though. :) Maybe it's just the melodramatic Tragedy Queen in me that likes it better the way it is. And somehow I want Marius and Cosette to be together, even though I really don't like Cosette... it's odd.
Anyway. I'm glad somebody understands! :)

Sarah said...

Yeah, I didn't really like Cosette too-she seemed somewhat childish and false in the book.

Julia Rogers said...

WOW!! I'm afraid I DONT agree with the idea that Marius should have married Eponine ....I mean she's a Thenardier, it made me mad in the book that she did like Marius!! =) I TOTALLY loved Cosette!! I think I've seen the movie several years ago and I liked it, and I WAS sad when Gavroche and Eponine were killed but still Marius and Cosette were PERFECT for each other! (end of discussion!!)=)

Miss Dashwood said...

Well, you can't exactly blame Eponine for being a Thenardier--her parents are the scum of the earth but that's not exactly her fault. But I agree that Marius and Cosette seem to just belong together. :)