My daughter Leah completed a run in “Les Misérables” today. This was something like her 40th musical. I love watching her on stage—since Leah's very first play (“West Side Story” at the age of 6—she played Officer Krupke!), she has taken performing very seriously, giving 100% of herself to every role.
I saw a touring production of “Les Misérables” in the late 1980s and I loved it but until I saw Leah’s show I forgot how great and epic a musical it is. I remember being in Paris when the original opened at the huge Palais des Sports in 1980. The English-language version premiered in London in 1985. Kendall and her family saw it there with Patti LuPone as Fantine and Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean. Though it’s transferred theatres twice, the show is still playing in that city 26 years later which is pretty incredible. It’s a real masterpiece that has been seen in 40 countries and translated into 21 languages. It played over 7,000 performances on Broadway. The musical is finally being made into a film this year with Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.
Of course the show is based on Victor Hugo’s book, set in 19th-century France. It follows the story of Jean Valjean, a good man who is sent to jail for 19 years because he stole a loaf of bread.We see many other characters struggling through miserable living conditions and achieving various levels of redemption amidst the backdrop of a political revolution. In Leah’s production, she played Enjoiras, the leader of a band of student revolutionaries and a close friend of Marius, who is in love with Cosette, the daughter of the late Fantine, who was forced to become a prostitute to send money to the abusive couple that was raising the daughter she had to give up. Oh yeah, there are some pretty intense themes in this musical, and I was surprised at how well this high school-aged troupe dealt with them all.
I loved seeing Leah as such an lefty activist. She also played smaller parts in other scenes. The story of “Les Misérables” couldn’t be more appropriate for our times with its harsh examination of poverty, greed, and corruption. It seems very meaningful that we were watching the final performance of this show just as Congress and President Obama were in final negotiations on the debt ceiling crisis, with many of the programs that could have aided the characters in this story put on the chopping block.
The show was almost three hours long (oy, those poor kids!) but I’ve made a five-minute version if you want to take a look at Leah’s ability to mobilize the masses:
There's a reason I could never be an actor, besides a total lack of talent. I would find it very difficult to bond so intensely with a group of people in a show only to be thrown to the winds after the last performance. On the other hand, Leah has been part of this acting company for nearly a decade and has several very close friends in the cast.
The music in this show is really beautiful. Charlie already knows most of Leah’s big number, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” I wonder if disappointed Democrats are singing it tonight in Washington:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!