Okay, so back in January of this year I wrote a post on how I was kind of worried that someone had taken it upon themselves to redo Les Miserables and unsure of their casting choices. Well, I still don’t know about the performance of the two main characters but the teaser trailer has made me very happy! It looks gorgeous and it has Anne Hathaway doing some serious emoting while singing “I Had A Dream”. Take that, Susan Boyle! I am also comforted by a couple of other news items. The director is Tom Hooper, of The King’s Speech and the HBO series John Adams fame. You can tell that his vision is all over this version of Les Mis, which is all to the good. Also, the man who originally played Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson (on whom I must admit I had a huge crush as a teenager), will be playing the part of Bishop Digne. It would be worth the price of admission just to hear him sing again.
The reason all this matters to me is because Les Miserables (the musical and the book) was a HUGE turning point in my life. In high school I took a Humanities class that had four instructors–One for Art, one for Literature, one for Philosophy and one for Music. For the first time in my life I was exposed to cultural things that I NEVER had experienced before and probably might never have had it not been for that course. I learned to love Opera, read serious literature, to try new foods, to love going to new places and spending hours in art galleries.
In this class we read Les Miserables (along with a bunch of other books including a play about the Marquis de Sade, I think it was Quills–can you imagine anyone trying to do that in High Schools today?). Anyway, reading Les Mis awakened a social conscience in me and taught me about the true meaning of justice and mercy. We went on field trips to see the musical–once at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. where it had it’s “out of town tryout” before going on to New York and once on Broadway. I will never forget either performance but I have to say that the entire first trip to D.C. remains vibrant in my mind. We went to dinner at The Watergate Hotel restaurant called Rivers at the Watergate and I had escargot for the first time in my life. Another crystal clear moment was the scene when Fantine is dying, hallucinating she bids Cosette, who is no longer with her, to go out and play….there was not a dry eye in the house….not even the 16 year old boys seated around me. I felt startled and relieved that they were crying too.
Afterward I bought the musical CD’s and memorized every song, every word, every recitative so that, to this day, I can still sing them. The song most people are familiar with from the musical is “I Had a Dream”, revived most recently by Susan Boyle, of Britain’s Got Talent fame. However, the musical has so many good numbers for all different types of voices, I strongly urge you to check them out on Youtube. You will find a definite difference between the original London production and the U.S. production (I believe there may be songs in the U.S. version that weren’t used in the British production), but they’re all good. One of my favorite songs is sung by one of my favorite characters, Eponine, called “On my own”. My own attempt at this wonderful song is below. Warning: the quality of this recording is not great.
On My Own, from Les Miserables (sung by me, acapella)