Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Les Misérables 25

Throughout the course of today I walked over two miles in three-inch heels and got massive blisters on both my feet. I put on makeup (which I hardly ever do; and even by makeup I just mean a couple swipes with the mascara wand) and wore a fancy and uncomfortable shirt. I left a meeting early. I skipped dessert. And for what?

One of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Tonight was the showing at a local theater of the 25th anniversary concert performance of Les Misérables done at the O2 Arena in London. I'll just let that not sink in for a moment for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about or why it means so much to me.


Ok, we're good? Good.

The plot involves some people doing some things around the time of some Parisian uprisings (early 1800s), but the story of the show is actually about love (and God -- but isn't all religion just about love anyway, in the end?). It follows Jean Valjean, a runaway convict; the girl he adopted, Cosette; the police officer that pursues him throughout their lives, Javert; and the revolutionary student with whom Cosette falls in love (and who falls in love with her), Marius. The musical version is an opera and the anniversaries are done in abridged concert fashion.

The concert tonight was nothing short of magical. It's not that every singer was amazing (they weren't) or that the theater I was in was packed (it wasn't) or that I actually got to see it live (I didn't). It was more about the experience (ask me about the Bob Dylan concert sometime). It was the experience of seeing the performance of a show that I've grown up with, that has shaped my love of theatre and music since I was a child. Not just any performance, but the anniversary performance. A performance that was specifically produced to mark the passage of time and commemorate the years that this show has existed -- existed to touch millions of people all over the world. It was the experience of watching an extremely talented group of individuals breathe life into one of my favorite stories of all time.

Now is probably a good time to mention that I've also seen the 10th anniversary concert that was done at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1995 (the official title, Les Misérables: The Dream Cast in Concert, might give you an idea of why I like it so much). I've think I've seen this concert once. Or twice. A year. For the past ten years. Like I said, I've grown up with the story, the show, the songs, the singers. I've fallen in love with the characters again and again through the power of music and theatre (which, if you know me at all, you must know that one of my maddest obsessions is with musical theatre). I also tried to read the book once, but I was too young -- I'll try again sometime soon.

Perhaps the most exhilerating part of the show (though it's hard to pick just one) was the end. Isn't the end always the best part? For those of you who don't know (or can't count), the musical Les Misérables was first performed (in English at least) in 1985 at the Barbican Arts Centre in London. It was produced by Cameron Mackintosh, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boubil, and Herbert Kretzmer, and the original cast starred Colm Wilkinson (most amazing man alive) as the leading role. Now forget for a moment that the high school girls sitting behind me didn't know who any of these people were, what the plot was, or that this was the cumulating event of my musical-watching career so far. Forget for a moment that Nick Jonas played the role of Marius tonight. Forget for just a moment that I was going through all of this by myself because I'm the only person I know who is both free on Wednesday nights and crazy enough to spend $15 on a ticket to a show about singing Frenchmen. Just focus on the fact that after the finale, just when everyone was thinking about grabbing their coats, peacing out to avoid the rush, and wondering why no one was leaving, the cast parted to the sides of the stage, and out walked the original 1985 cast from London. I put that in italics for you in case you wouldn't have understood without them how much of a mind blower this was for me.

By that time I thought that I was cried out. I had already cried off all my mascara ten minutes into the first act, and it just kept going from there. I really thought I had no emotion left for this show. Boy, was I wrong. I could hardly contain myself. Out walked Colm Wilkinson himself, looking a little old and grey for a Jean Valjean, but still obviously capable of the role. Beside him strode Michael Ball, showtunes singer extraordinaire and original Marius. My grandmother likes his voice almost as much as his dimples, but in my opinion the dimples play second fiddle. The man has the voice of an angel. The rest of the cast was there too, and just in case you thought it couldn't get any better -- and I couldn't be any more surprised and blown away -- Colm Wilkinson stepped up to the microphone and began singing the most famous solo of the role. But instead of a solo they turned it into a quartet with a few other Jean Valjeans, including the man who acted the part tonight. The two (or three? I couldn't tell) casts sang a couple more songs together, the Important Men (Mackintosh,
Schönberg, et al) said a few words, and then they shot off fireworks, as it appears is becoming customary at these anniversary things.

I attempted to stand. I clapped at a screen, forgetting where I was. I furiously wiped my eyes, hoping the high school girls behind me (why were they there?) wouldn't notice my tears. I walked home, decided that that ticket was the best $15 dollars I had ever spent. Thank you, Cameron, for producing such a beautiful and enchanting show. And thank you, State Theater, for broadcasting it, allowing me to experience the magic along with the 23,000 audience members in the O2.

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