I had no idea what I was going to write for this issue. I was going through a serious case of writer’s block – we all get it – and as the deadline drew nearer, it seemed like I was going to have nothing to hand to the editor. And trust me, she’s not Lynda Day, but our editor is scary when she wants to be. (Oh, really? I have the strangest feeling somebody’s going to be on typo-catching duty for the next month… -Ed.)
But, yes, the point was, or is, that I’ve been having something of a creative drought. So when I got up today, still trying to ponder over what to write, I opted to watch the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Misérables. This is one of those musicals that I adore, though considering how bloody depressing it is, I can’t help but wonder why sometimes.
The story is one of a failed rebellion except, no, maybe that’s simplifying it far too much. Even if it is during that section of the story that the bulk seems to take place. (Yes, I’ve read The Brick, I have a hardback of the Julie Rose translation, thank you very much.) So, if I was pressed, what could I say this story was about?
Well, it’s about life. Les Misérables is, really, about life during a difficult period of human history. It’s about how events of the time grew to a point where they exploded, except that explosion was – like so much – pointless, for want of a better word. Victor Hugo was a master at writing on the tragedies of life, and this is arguably his best for it. Yes, at times perhaps things are a little too coincidental, but what is life but a series of coincidences? The characters Hugo created are marvelous strong, each with their own stories to tell and you can’t help but wonder if there is ever a chance to hear any of them. But it’s not really the novel I’m talking about here, it’s the musical. So, okay, let’s talk about the musical.
The lyrics are written by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel, and it is very fair to say that the gentlemen understand Hugo’s work. Within under three hours, they manage to distill a novel that is fondly called ‘The Brick’ by fans for good reason to its most important plot points. The songs as they are written are able to stand without any visual, telling the story incredibly clearly. It may often be the case for a Les Mis fan to find themselves moved by one of the songs just happening to come on the shuffle function on their mp3 player. Claude-Michel Schonberg’s music is just that good.
I’m getting away with myself in my praise here. What don’t I like about this show? That’s actually a question I find genuinely hard to answer. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I can come out of seeing it with likes and dislikes, but that’s performance to performance. On the basis of the actual show? It’s really, in a sense, everything a theatre fan could want in an epic musical. The sheer scale of the musical is grand, and there is not one person who could walk out of the theatre not having found at least one character to like, or one song stuck in their head.
This year, there will be a movie version of the musical released. Directed by Tom Hopper, the movie looks – from the released trailer – to have captured that sense of grandeur that is somehow present from the confines of the stage. The cast is filled with big names, and it can only be hoped that the performances will continue that tradition of moving audiences the world over.
When I started this article, I didn’t have anything to write.
Don’t think I’ve done too badly, do you?
(Wrote this while listening to the cast recording of Matilda: the Musical. Tim Minchin’s another lyrical genius)