On the bus into New York City on Wednesday afternoon, I turned to my roommate and told her that I had a serious problem: I had forgotten my tissues!
Why was I so worried about tissues?
We were heading into the city to see Les Misérables, the Boublil and Schönberg musical that just about everyone has heard of since it was turned into a movie with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, a lot of other really talented singers, and Russell Crowe. For those of you who are new to my blog, you’ll want to know that this is not the first time I’ve written about Les Miz. I saw it in London, at the Queen’s Theatre, in November, while I was on my study abroad. I’ve also seen it quite a few other times, with my mom in Chicago and with friends in Boston when it came around on tour. It was the first big theater show I ever saw. When I heard it was going to be opening on Broadway in March, I knew I had to try and see it (it was also my first time seeing a show on Broadway!). So we bought two tickets, way up in the balcony, and headed off to see the show!
First off, just to get this out of the way: the new production is PHENOMENAL. The cast, headed by the incredibly talented Ramin Karimloo as Valjean and Will Swenson as Javert, is stellar. Caissie Levy as Fantine, Nikki M. James as Éponine and Keala Settle as Madame Thénardier are all excellent, and even though the show is still in previews, it was incredibly well done.
Les Miz is a powerful story in and of itself–a story of redemption and the conflict between right and wrong (if you haven’t read the book, I’d strongly recommend it. And if you don’t have time for 1000+ pages, go see the show! And if you don’t have time for that, find a very quick synopsis here). The production I saw on Wednesday night captured the power of the story, harnessed it and poured it out on the stage. This production was far more raw, emotionally and physically, than I remembered other productions being. Karimloo and Swenson brought depth to their characters, particularly Karimloo’s Valjean. In other productions, Valjean makes the transition from bad man 15 minutes into the show, and from then on, he is the good guy. The Valjean I saw on Wednesday night was, even into the second act, still wrestling with being good instead of being evil. He was always ready to defend himself, willing to use physical force to protect himself or others, and struggling visibly with the tension between goodness and hatred. It was not only a well-sung performance, but a wonderfully acted one.
I find that whenever I go to see Les Miz, I focus on one or another of the characters. Last time, it was the barricade boys, the student revolutionaries ready to die to change the world, who got me to weeping. This time, though, it was Valjean. His struggle to stay on the right track, to keep living a life of love, sacrifice, and self-restraint was incredibly resonant. I started crying at the barricade, and was sobbing uncontrollably for the last ten minutes of the show. But to be honest? I’m glad I cried. I cry at Les Miz because I find meaning in the show, and every time I see it, I cry for a different reason. Les Misérables is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving: each time, it’s reassuringly the same story, but the meaning I extract from it is different. I’m happy that I cried, and I hope I keep crying.
And no, I never did get any tissues!