Saturday, June 9, 2012

Do You Hear the Distant Drums: Our Conclusion to This Amazing Week

Jean Valjean stands alone in the middle of the stage.

Marius and Cosette are married.  Eponine is gone.  Fantine is gone.  Enjolras is gone.  Grantaire, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Gavroche… all are gone.  The Thenardiers are gone (we hope).  Alone, Valjean waits in the shadows, counting the hours till he can sleep. Once more he prays to God on high, once more for Marius—and for Cosette.  “Take these children, my Lord, to Thy embrace… and show them grace.”  Then, and only then, will he pray for himself, that God will bring him home.  “Where You are, let me be… bring me home.” 

That’s when Fantine slips out of the shadows, come to take Valjean to heaven.  (Okay, so this isn’t very theologically sound, but… anyways.)  “You raised my child with love and you will be with God.”  

Cosette and Marius return, overcome with grief and guilt now that they know Valjean’s true story.  Marius literally falls at Valjean’s feet to beg for forgiveness, and Valjean is content now that his loved ones are with him.  He tells Cosette that he is leaving her a confession of all that happened in his life (and hers)—“it’s the story of those who always loved you.  Your mother gave her life for you and gave you to my keeping.”

Eponine joins Fantine in a wrenchingly beautiful duet as they take Valjean to heaven. “Take my hand and lead me to salvation.  Take my love, for love is everlasting.  And remember a truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God.”

 And then… and then… as the distant drums grow louder, the ensemble moves forward onto the stage in a reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing?".  Marius and Cosette stand close together—the sole survivors of a story that encompassed so many lives.  (All right, all right, the Thenardiers survived too but they don’t count.)  Enjolras and the Friends of the ABC move forward to lead the triumphant chorus as everyone joins in.  “Do you hear the people sing?  Say, do you hear the distant drums?  It is the future that we bring when tomorrow comes!

We’ll pause a moment and let you have your tears.

So… which version nailed the finale?  DO NOT ASK US THAT QUESTION AT THIS TIME.  Or at least do not expect an answer to that question at this time.  As you can see, we are quite busy.  *Amy tosses Petie another box of tissues to share*

Oh, all right, fine, we’ll attempt an answer.  It really is a terrifically hard decision, but you’re tired of hearing us say that by now, aren’t you?  Colm Wilkinson (10th), yet again, completely inhabits Valjean’s part.  When he sings, "Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to you glory," we literally weep.  Alfie Boe’s singing is beautiful and we have to give him MAJOR kudos for crying at the end when Fantine and Eponine appear, but it’s still Colm’s song.  We're not particularly impressed by Ruthie Henshall's appearance in 10th (Petie maintains that her "Come with me where chains will never bind you" sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard), but Lea Salonga blows us away as always in 25th.  (Are we the only ones who jumped up cheering as soon as she opened her mouth? Fantine's back!)  She also blows us away in 10th as Eponine... and we're stuck wondering why on earth someone can't tweak the musical a bit (and invent a time machine) to allow her to play both roles in a single production.

Oh, who are we kidding? We love them both.  We can't decide which one got this song better... but if we were forced to choose, we'd lean toward 10th.  The mind-blowing amount of talent assembled onstage in that song... it's incredible.  

Let's hear it for Lea Salonga! And her cap!
But it's not over yet.  This is when the appreciation begins: the bowing, the applause, the frenzied delight from the audience and the sheer joy exuding from the performers as they cheer for each other.  It happens in both productions, but the one dearest to our hearts is the 10th.  We hope we're not the only ones who get a huge kick out of Eponine's exuberant reaction when the Thenardiers step forward.  Heeheeheehee.

Is there anything more heartwarming than seeing Javert break into wild applause for Jean Valjean as he steps forward to bow?
Annnnnnnd we burst into happy tears for the umpteenth time.
Yep, actually there is--it's the moment when Marius goes nuts, cheering for the man who made this musical what it is, and the audience's applause reaches unheard-of proportions.
This picture doesn't do it justice.  Go watch the DVD.
 We cry unashamedly here.  (Um, are we actually ever ashamed of our crying during Les Miz? Nope.  We are not.)  After all the tragedy and heartbreak that took place during this musical, the exuberant joy and celebration that sweep the stage at the end are an incredible relief.  Yes, we know they can't hear us clapping.  That's not going to stop us.

Fantine's actually whistling there--is this awesome or what? Don't say what.
 Although we prefer the 10th’s bowing/applauding sequence, one thing we desperately love about the 25th’s is when Alfie Boe steps forward to take his bow. Despite the spectacular performance he just gave that would likely puff anyone up, he looks so humble, like it’s his privilege to be there playing Valjean. We’re forever Colm fans, but… there will always be a special place in our hearts for Alfie.

And still, it isn't over.  (Nor is this blog post.  Hey, it's the end of the series-- we can be permitted a bit of long-winded-ness, right? What, you think we've been long-winded during the entire week? Well, we didn't ask you about that.)  No, because now the stage grows (temporarily) quiet in 25th as everyone prepares for the encore, and from the shadows three men step forward.  John Owen-Jones, Simon Bowman and Colm Wilkinson come to join Alfie Boe at the microphone, four different Valjeans. And as the spotlight focuses on Colm Wilkinson, the audience breaks into ecstatic cheers.  Before he even opens his mouth.

Colm Wilkinson and John Owen-Jones

But then he does open his mouth, and the impossibly high first notes of "God on high, hear my prayer," come pouring out, and the audience goes nuts.  Again.  So do we incidentally, but that's a given, right?

Simon Bowman and Alfie Boe
As the song goes on, John Owen-Jones and Simon Bowman join in, and finally Alfie Boe chimes in at the last to hit a note even more impossibly high (and yes, everybody goes berserk again).  "You can take, you can give; let him be, let him live!"  

The encore in the 10th also stars multiple Valjeans, but in a very different way.  As the cast finishes their bows and the orchestra strikes up the opening bars of "Do You Hear the People Sing", seventeen actors from various Les Miz productions all around the world join the cast onstage to sing that song in their native languages.  From Colm Wilkinson to Reinhard Brussman to Jan Jezek, they belt out each and every line from "Do You Hear the People Sing" (some of them multiple times--it's a short song :D) in over a dozen languages and we get goosebumps.

But what really, truly gives us goosebumps is the all-cast ensemble reprise of "One Day More" at the very, very end of the 25th.  When the original 1985 cast (eep! Michael Ball returns!) and many other actors from other productions come out onstage to join the 25th cast, we're on cloud ninety-nine.  (It's bigger, grander and more exciting than cloud nine.  Trust us.)  
Michael Ball and Colm Wilkinson... and a cheering crowd... and a swooning Petie and Amy.
There's something indescribably wonderful about watching all these phenomenal artists perform together, with Les Miserables as the tie that binds them together.  A divide of twenty-five years separates many of their performances, and yet they all came together on that one glorious night in London to sing their hearts out and thrill us all.  We can't possibly keep the huge grins off our faces (not that we would want to) as two of our favorites, Colm Wilkinson and Ramin Karimloo, stand together at the mic with Ramin's arm around Colm's shoulders. 
See how Colm's pointing to Ramin as if to say, "Look at this guy!
Isn't he great?" Yes.  Yes, he is.
Colm Wilkinson begins to sing the first lines, and the theater roars. But that sound is nothing to what comes charging almost through the roof when Michael Ball starts with, "I did not live until today..."

There must be at least three hundred people on that stage--we exaggerate not--all singing their hearts out, and we can't resist singing along.  Come on, admit it-- you know you do the same thing!   

The happy, heartfelt sigh we give at the final, "My place is here, I fight with you," completely sums it up.  This is Les Miz. There's a new world for the winning, there's a new world to be won... do you hear the people sing?

So now we've come to the end, to that all-important question that's probably been bugging you all since you began reading this series.  What's the final answer?  Which concert do Amy and Petie like the best?

Well, first of all, we have to say that the 25th concert is of epic proportions.  The lighting! The costumes! The brilliance! The sheer magnitude of it all! It includes more of the original score, the actors actually act a little more (that is, they don't stand still the whole time), there are more props and the special effects (especially during the battle scenes... sigh...) are magnificent.  Visually, this concert is spectacular.  And it stars some of our favorite actors to boot.  We can sum it up in one word:  RAMINKARIMLOOLEASALONGASAMANTHABARKS.

Yes, that was one word.

But now... but now... you've all guessed by now, haven't you?  The 10th Anniversary Concert wins, ladies and gentlemen.  There's a reason that it's called "The Dream Cast In Concert."  There are at least ten reasons why we adore this concert with such great adoration, and you needn't look at us like that, because only three of those reasons are Michael Ball.  Okay, well, four.

The fact is that the 10th concert didn't need all the fancy frou-frou of the 25th (and we're not bashing the 25th, folks!).  Because it stood alone.  The incredible talent of the performers, the grandeur of the music, the way every essential bit of that amazing musical was conveyed so perfectly in such a limited time and space.  The actors didn't need special effects or elaborate costuming (though we wouldn't have minded some better lighting...) because they stood alone. They made us laugh and cry, shiver and bawl, shake our heads in wonder and smile so wide as to permanently stretch our mouths out of shape.   They managed to give us Les Miserables in all its full blaze of glory while standing behind a row of microphones.

What more could we ask?

And now... well, now Les Miz week is over.  It's come to a close and we're feeling a bit sad.  But really, there's nothing to be sad about at all.  The title of the musical may translate as "the miserable ones", but are we miserable?  No, indeed. We're joyful-- joyful and glad and delighted that this incredible story has become a part of our lives, and will continue to be so forevermore.

Writing this blog series was a journey for us both.  It brought us much closer together as friends, it taught one of us how to meet deadlines (cough cough, nobody look at Amy, cough cough), it gave us hilarity and laughter and inside jokes (PUPPIES!), and it reinforced (a hundredfold!) our love for Les Miserables.

We hope that, if you are already a fan, this series served to strengthen your fanship and remind you of why you love this musical so much.  And we hope that if you're being introduced to the wonder that is Les Miz for the first time... you will realize just what you've been missing all your life.  Will you join in our crusade?

Petie (country girl) and Amy (Miss Dashwood)


Alexandra said...


That was so lovely.

I totally agree...the 10th is the best. Just because of all that amazing talent squooooshed into one performance. It's what I always recommend to people who are finding out about it for the first time.

Hahahaha, we were a part of that going through the roof when MB started singing. :) "DROWN THE TWERP OUT, MB! WOOOOOO!!!!!" It was funny...just the power in the man's were huuuuuuuuundreds of people on stage and you could STILL hear his voice about everyone else. MAN. Amazing.

Sigh. Awesomeness. And was nice how Alfie cried. But Colm still owned that bit. But Lea's Fantine...awesome.

This was sooooooo funnnnnnn!!!! Ack! Loved it. :)

Now I'm like, do I even need to write that post? :-D

Molly said...

Squeeeeee!!!!! I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this week! I'm so sad that is is over!

Miss Melody Muffin said...

Many thanks for this wonderful week. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading all your posts and discovering the wonderful world of Les Miserables.

I am eagerly looking forward to reading the book and seeing the two anniversary concerts, as well as hopefully the movie when it comes out.

I'll 'join in your crusade'!!

Miss Dashwood said...

Hahahaha--you're awesome. "Drown the twerp out," indeed. I laughed out loud. :D
And YES, all that amazing talent. Just mind-boggling. 10th forever.
Someday I want to hear MB in concert (sighhhhh), WITHOUT a microphone. Just to see how well his voice carries. I bet he could bring the roof down in the Royal Albert Hall, that's what I think.

Squeee yourself! So glad you liked it! :D

Miss Melody Muffin,
I'm so glad you've become a Miserable One! :D Do please let me know how you enjoy the book--it's fantastic. And you are in for a real treat with those two concerts!

An Old-Fashioned Girl said...

Ah, what a glorious series of posts!

Miss Melody Muffin said...

I give you my word I'll tell you how I like the book and the concerts. I'm planning two blog posts with my impressions- one after I read the book and one after I've seen the full versions of the two concerts. Expect them sometime next month or early August.

I am SOO looking forward to immersing myself even more into the world of Les Miserables!!!!

Anonymous said...

What DVD were you talking about?

Miss Dashwood said...

So glad you enjoyed them!

Miss Melody Muffin,
Thanks! I'll be sure to check your blog for those!

I was talking about the 10th Anniversary Concert DVD.

Anonymous said...

I'm SOOO glad Les Miz week is over simply because I won't be in a puddle of tears at the computer any more. Yes, Les Miz week was lengthened to almost two weeks for me because I didn't read all of your posts on time (silly me), but I'm glad it was lengthened... even if I'm glad it's over.

*sob* Okay, that's the last time I'll cry over the computer... well, maybe... *sob*

A few comments on this post...

Everybody yelling and screaming (and whistling - go Ruthie!!) was just so fun to see pictures of. I haven't watched the 10th in a while... (Mental note - must do that!) And the crowds going NUTS when Colm walked out - then again when he started singing! Hey, I was going nuts!!! : P AND RAMIN KARIMLOO AND HADLEY FRASER!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOT!!!! Ramin IS great!

Totally agree with your decision that the 10th is better. Even the 25th, with Ramin and Hadley and Alfie and Robert and Lea, can't measure up to Colm and Michael and Lea!! (Yeah, that's 5 against 3, and it's STILL better!!!)

Let me just say that I LOOOOOOVED every single post!! I laughed and cried and everything in between. Even if I DO like *cough, cough* MaxoverMichaelpleasedon'tslapme! *cough, cough* I loved every post and every sentance and ALL OF THE PICTURES!!! : ) Me loves it all. If you hadn't been so in depth on everything, I'd ask you to! : P Can't wait for your next themed week! (Whenever it'll be... probably not for a while... but there's a coauthor over here who would be GLAD to help with anything... : P)

Thank you, M'dears!!

Anonymous said...

Alexandra - B'HAHAHAHA!!! I heartily echo your DROWN OUT THE TWERP!!!! : D

Made me laugh out loud. Heehee...