Monday, June 18, 2012

A Moment with Les Miserables

Les Miserables is in town at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, and I was thrilled to be able to go with one of my fellow musical lovers, C. The last performance we attended was quite a different experience. We were both halfway through slightly challenging pregnancies and looked and moved with barge-like qualities. This time, we were able to fit into "normal" clothes and we sipped on champagne at intermission rather than nibbling on smuggled-in crackers in a dark corner.

This was my 4th time seeing Les Mis, and I fell in love with it all over again with this cast and crew. With its 25th Anniversary, the directors and producer have changed things up a bit: losing the stage turntable that allowed characters to walk and run at normal speed, created movement, and provided views of both sides of the barricade. They also incorporated sketches and drawings by the author of Les Miserable, Victor Hugo, into the backgrounds, giving it an added layer of depth. Did you know Victor Hugo was an artist in his own right? As an aside, I got to visit his home in Paris, and some of his drawings hang throughout the house, including a large charcoal sketch of Notre Dame - which explains his ability to describe the cathedral and so much of Paris with such clarity. He knows and understands the curves, the corners, the shadows and the light of the city. He was quite an amazing artist.

Some of the voices they chose for this production were a little different. Fantine's voice was more youthful and ethereal than I've heard before, and yet it does make sense. She was a young, single mother. My skepticism turned to full belief as I listened to her as she gave her only daughter to the care of Jean Valjean and then slipped away. Betsy Morgan's voice is absolutely haunting and beautiful. Eponine's voice was also a little different. Less jazzy, a little more refined than in other productions. I'm still not sure if I'm sold, though she reduced me to tears with her performance of "A Little Fall of Rain." 

The difference in staging was the biggest difference. The biggest win was the cafe. It felt more intimate with a clubhouse effect. And the choice to have "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" performed with no set at all, though I questioned it at first, ended up being even more heart-breaking. The greatest fail, however, was the barricade. This is a huge fail, I'm afraid. Without the turntable, the audience wasn't privy to both sides of the structure. As a result, the role of little Gavroche was a throwaway. His character lost all impact. For all his scrapping and inside-scooping under and around and over the barricade, because we couldn't see it, it didn't matter and his death was barely noticed. Eponine's death, too, lost a lot of impact. We didn't see her, or anyone, risking life and limb trying to slip unnoticed through the barricade.

Overall, though, a beautiful performance. I've been singing bits and pieces to myself for days and savoring little memories of scenes here and there. For example, how refreshing to witness the story of the priest as a hero!  The priest opened his home to a broken, wild ex-con, fed him, gave him a comfortable place to sleep. Instead of thanking him, Jean Valjean steals all his silver in the middle of the night. When apprehended and the police go to the priest to have charges pressed, the priest says no, the silver wasn't stolen, it was a gift. And, in fact, his guest had left behind the best ones on accident. This act of forgiveness is what sets Jean Valjean on his path to redemption and healing after being imprisoned for 20 years. This is an act that I would expect from my friends who are men of the cloth, and how lovely to see it played out on stage.

I don't know what C and I can go to after this. It's going to be a tough act to follow.  But, as with tea, attending performances such as these are even better when you have someone to share them with. So I raise my cup of tea (green, in honor of C's preference for the greens) to a beautiful production and a good friend with whom to see it!