Saturday, June 4, 2011

Still the Best

We just finished watching the London 25th anniversary of the musical LES MISERABLES on PBS. This is a magnificent concert production with a huge orchestra and chorus and thousands of die-hard LES MIZ fans in attendance. Although the intimacy of the London or New York productions is dwarfed, the concert provides stunning clarity of voice, diction, and emotion. Don't miss it. I am sure PBS in their search for donors will show it many times; that's what pledge breaks are for.

Seeing this concert brought me back to my first experience of LES MISERABLES in the spring of l989. I led our sixth annual Humanities Class trip to New York where we took in the arts and theater. Our first play was the recently opened smash THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with its soaring melodies and incredible sets. The students were swept away, particularly the girls, by the romance and spectacle.

The next night, feeling PHANTOM was the pinnacle of Broadway musicals, we trooped into LES MISERABLES without much expectation. By the end of Act I as the barricades were erected with smoke, fire, emotion, and great music, I could tell that the students were in awe, especially the boys this time. Maybe it was the swaggering machismo of the young revolutionaries, but perhaps it was also the sweep of Hugo's themes and the extraordinary music that lifted them. As Act II progressed, the deaths and sacrifices began to change the tone. At the death of Eponine in Marius's arms and the defeat of the students, the emotions of the audience rose. And in the finale, as Jean Val Jean dies in the company of his daughter Cosette, Marius, his son-in-law, and the spirits of Cosette's mother Fantine and Eponine, the scene takes on the qualities of great operatic ensembles, lifted by the show's major theme "One Day More," sung by the entire company. As the lights came up, I looked around at my group. Like me, most of them were in tears, even some of the athletes, who never dreamed they would respond to a show like this.

If anything sums up the power of the musical LES MISERABLES, it is this: it speaks to our sense of beauty, justic, and love in terms few popular entertainments could possibly envision.


  1. I will watch LES MISERABLES when it comes on again. I can't believe it, but I have never seen the production. Shame on me.

  2. Les Mis was the first show I saw actually ON Broadway when my parents took me to the great NYC early in tenth grade. My favorite English teacher up to that point (and still one of the greats), taught us more than just grammar and the meaning of literature in ninth grade and as we studied "A Tale of Two Cities," we also covered the themes, story and music of "Les Mis" using the music to the show and the PBS production at that time with the original cast. My mother and I clearly remember the Overture. As the symphony began playing and the lights came up, we started crying! you can imagine us by the end of this wonderful show. To that point, I always thought "The Phantom of the Opera" was the greatest music. We saw "Phantom" the second night we were there and after Les Mis, it was a bit of a letdown. (Still adore both though and can never change the channel when PBS airs the concert!)

    Mr. Awsumb- I hope you and Mrs. Awsumb are well! I still have very fond memories of our class trip to NYC. "Chicago" was my favorite that year and I SO appreciate you introducing me to it! No one like the great Bob Fosse to inspire you to DANCE (even if it's sometimes only in your soul.)