Monday, October 29, 2007

Not one day more?

I've commented at Man in Chair and Steve on Broadway about my love for "Les Miserables." With today's announcement that the Broadway revival will close in January, I've started to think about why it is I remember this show so fondly nearly 20 years after seeing it on tour in Syracuse, N.Y.

At the time, I wasn't a regular theatergoer. And when you don't go to the theater that often, every time you go it becomes much more of a memorable event. Part of it is, of course, that you're usually spending more money for the evening than, say, a trip to the local multiplex.

I went with some female coworkers and we treated the evening as a big deal. We all got dressed up and had a nice dinner at someone's house beforehand. (I guess times have changed, because we were much more dressed up than I've ever gotten for a Broadway show.)

Recently, I read a comment somewhere that "people like to see their money up on stage," and I suppose that's part of the attraction. "Les Miserables," with the big cast, big ensemble numbers and lavish costumes and elaborate set looks like a big deal. Is it a spectacle? Sure. That's part of the attraction. I love the grand, sweeping, historical epic nature of "Les Miserables." I remember leaving the theater and feeling wowed.

It's a classic story that deals with so many rich, memorable characters and themes, from the unsavory, corrupt Thenardiers, to the saintly, tragic Fantine, to the charismatic, handsome Enjolras. There's a strong protagonist in Jean Valjean, a man sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children, and a strong antagonist in Javert, the police inspector who pursues him relentlessly.

I'm also attracted to the mix of politics and passion, romance and revolution - Marius' love for Cosette and the idealistic students at the barricades, hoping to change society. (I guess it won't come as a shock to anyone that my favorite movie is "Casablanca," another tale of love and war and a man with a secret past.)

And there are some meaty themes in "Les Miserables," class divisions, a man's attempt to escape his past and remake his life, the struggle against injustice, a mother's love for her child. All of this is reflected beautifully in the score - the stirring, anthemic "Do You Hear the People Sing," the witty and rousing "Master of the House," the tender and poignant "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Castle on a Cloud."

(What can I say? I love "Do You Hear the People Sing." I get the same feeling hearing it that I get during "Casablanca" when when Victor Lazlo tells the band at Rick's to play "La Marseillaise" to drown out the Germans.)

Even in years when I hardly ever went to the theater, I faithfully listened to the original London cast recording of "Les Miserables" from start to finish. The show has stayed with me all these years, along with, I'm not ashamed to admit, my Cosette beach towel.

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