Saturday, July 27, 2013

Les Misérables

Greetings All!

It is the weekend and at the risk of hubris, have to say I feel a bit like Hemingway, or maybe Hunter Thompson is a better fit.  In any event, I feel that way as I am banging out this blog post while sitting outside on the porch and puff on a cigar.  I have no delusions that this exercise of a minor vice will allow me to conjure their literary powers but then again, it can' t hurt.  (And hey, it is a nice way to get this post rolling.)

This has been a big weekend with the 39th running of the famed Bix 7 road race.  That should be a post in itself and depending on how motivated I am this weekend, I hope to crank that out as well.  In the meantime, let's talk about Les Misérables.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo 

(The above image should be in the public domain and if not I claim fair use and if that does not work, here's a plug, "Go buy the book and the DVD and the soundtrack!"  Ah, the occupational hazards of being an attorney and writing a blog...)

The show has been around a long time.  We saw it on Broadway a few days before we got married and loved it.    Here is the website link to the show:

The story, in a nutshell, is about a convict in the first half of nineteenth century France who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread.  He obtains parole, but finds life is not a whole lot better on the outside.  He ends up "breaking" his parole and is able to start a new life.  However, the old one keeps coming back in inconvenient ways.

Here is the link to the book, compliments of Wikipedia:

I will skip a detailed review of the story as the real point of this blog is the production I saw this weekend.  Center for Living Arts is in Rock Island, Illinois.

My friends Dino and Tina Hayz run it and it is a celebration of local theater.  Regular readers of my blog will recall I have an appreciation for theater and especially locally-produced theater.  Which leads me to this show:

In the summer, the Center has a camp for junior high and high school kids.  This year, as Dino said, "...was a game-changer."  They avoided traditional or "safe" material and swung for the fences with this show.  They hit it out of the park.

Full disclosure, my daughter and several of her friends were in it so of course I am biased.  Then again, I (gladly) sat through it again today and that was after running that little race I mentioned above.  In other words, I can say it is great, great theater.

The cast is, without exception, talented.  More significant, they all bring a passion and pure joy to the stage.  They are still honing their craft.  And yet what they have to share is amazing to watch.

This is a tough show with rough material.  High School Musical it ain't.  There is death, poverty, prostitution, war, rebellion, betrayal, abandonment, heartbreak, and that's just the first act.  Well, I am being a bit sarcastic, but you get the point.  After all, one translation of the title is "The Wretched."

Central to the story is Jean Valjean.  He is the former convict who through a positive twist of fate becomes successful.  The young man who plays him, Liam  Baldwin, brings to life the anguish of regret that Hugo put down on ink.   His nemesis, the dreaded Inspector Javert, is played with equal passion, Matthew McFate.  As for the ladies, Bethany Piottner offers a heart-wrenching performance as the distraught Fantine.  Her haunting rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" challenged any eye in the theater to stay dry, myself included.  The show was not without comic relief.  Max Moline brought down the house as the corrupt nar-do-well innkeeper, along with his wife, played by Liz Coin.  But again, the whole cast, and I mean everyone, was just super. 

I recognize this is a sad story.  At the same time, there are positive, dare I say it, uplifting aspects to the story.  Jean Valjean renounces vengeance against Javert, despite having a lifetime of accumulated rage.  Fantine's daughter, Cosette, having been dealt a terrible early hand in life draws the ace on the river and ends up marrying the handsome Marius.  At the end, Jean Valjean dies with grace.  The same cannot be said for Javert.

As I reflect on this show, I cannot help but be bursting with pride for the young people who brought this story to life.  They showed a maturity beyond their years.  The stage was not a Broadway one but it was their stage.  With every note sung, young voices celebrated the beauty of theater.  The promise of this story is that something better awaits, that fate is not some chain upon your soul.  When I saw this on the big stage years ago, that message resonated.  In hearing it told by young people, it resonated more.  As it concluded, all were on stage singing the Finale.  Here are the final lyrics:

"Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes."

Dino made some wonderfully poignant  remarks at the beginning of the show about how a story told stays in one's heart forever.  This story, and the people who told it, told it well.  It was a privilege to be in the audience.  The title of this story may reference misery but this story, as performed, filled me with pride and joy.  Thanks to all of this production of Les Misérables, this is one story that I will surely carry in my heart forever and will do so with gratitude.  Thanks.

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