A New Revolution- 6th

On November 3rd, I saw Les Mis at Ovens Auditorium during the US Tour. As so many know, I am a massive fan of the musical. This cast will consist of some of the actors I saw back when the tour first was launched- only five of the nine actors from last time were part of this particular cast.

Cast:

Jean Valjean: Andrew Maughan (Understudy)

Javert: Josh Davis

Fantine: Mary Kate Moore

Cosette: Jillian Butler

Marius: Joshua Grosso

Eponine: Paige Smallwood

Enjolras: Matt Shingledecker

Monsieur Thenardier: Jimmy Smagula

Madame Thenardier: Allison Guinn

Young Cosette: Mackenzie Mercer

Gavroche: Robbie Crandall

Seats:

The best seats, at Ovens, in my opinion are in the Mezzanine. I got to sit in the Mezzanine. I loved those seats- I got to see everything and hear everything. They were also were part of the center.

Staging:

As this is the new production, I still love it. I love how it adds a little bit more color by using the paintings as the backdrop- those also add a bit more Victor Hugo into the set. I loved how “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was staged- that was one of my favorite parts of the new production. The new staging really shows the vastness of Paris. My only disappointment though was that when time changed- there was no year on the backdrop- that does help explain things.

Portrayals:

Jean Valjean- I was hoping to get Nick Cartell (a standout from 2017), but ended up with an understudy. Because he was an understudy, I knew I had to respect and appreciate his Valjean. In most cases, that wouldn’t be the case. Usually, when I see Les Mis, my tears start at “I Dreamed a Dream”- but when I saw it, guess what happened- I started crying during “What have I Done”. I started to become an emotional wreck sooner than I expected. So, Valjean’s transformation started to show- I was wondering how would be tackle “Bring Him Home”, the song many Valjean’s look forward to singing the most. I loved his version of “Bring Him Home”. So, Andrew defiantly was able to bring out Valjean’s transformation.

Javert- so, Josh Davis was an actor that stayed with the tour in 2017 and was part of my cast yesterday. I was wondering if he would be better yesterday. I always struggle with Javert. It is hard to find common ground or feel sympathy. I think Josh was a little bit stronger this time around. He defiantly mastered Javert’s voice like last time, and the reason why I said he improved was because I think he had a much stronger “Stars”.

Fantine- I wanted Mary Kate Moore as Fantine. Back in 2017, she was part of my ensemble, and then in 2018, she become Fantine after being the understudy. It is hard to watch any Fantine on stage. Just like I expected- “I Dreamed a Dream” reduced me to tears. Her Fantine was amazing.

Cosette- Jillian Butler was part of my 2017 cast. She has this beautiful soprano voice. She somehow can connect to a charming and awkward Marius. It actually makes those two a more adorable and better couple. I strongly love Jillian and Joshua together as Marius and Cosette.

Marius- I am glad that I saw Joshua Grosso again. In 2017, he was one of my standouts. So seeing him again was such a delight. He was still a charming and awkward Marius- one example was during “A Heart Full of Love”- he literally treated falling in love with Cosette like he had no idea what to do. Once again, during “A Little Fall of Rain”, he focused more on comforting Eponine less than the heartbreak he was feeling. People might think he should show the heartbreak more, but do not forget in that scene, Marius is also supposed to show comfort and compassion to Eponine as well. At the end, the reaction was a bit different- that was because he was interacting with a different Eponine. I did not even know if he was going to end the song- that did tell me was heartbroken over her death. So, I saw all of the same things I loved about Joshua’s Marius in the first place.

Paige Smallwood- While Jillian and Joshua were still Marius and Cosette, I had a different Eponine. I had no idea how just one actress could impact the love triangle. She could affect it in a minor or major way only because I already saw the other two back in 2017. “On My Own”- that song actually made me cry this time around. “A Little Fall of Rain”- so believable and I could easily tell she was getting weaker and dying and that she was dying after getting shot.

Matt Shingledecker- He was a standout from 2017. It was nice getting to see him this time around. So I had two of my three standouts from last time. He still felt like a passionate leader. It can be hard to describe why I love Matt so much.

Allison Guinn/ Jimmy Smagula- I had seen Allison Guinn both in 2017 and this time around. I had no idea what she would be like with Jimmy. I knew I loved her as Madame Thenardier so it was interesting seeing her with a new Thenardier. Like many Thenardiers, they were hilarious. So Allison does work well with Jimmy.

Young Cosette/Gavroche- The children of Les Mis were Mackenzie Mercer and Robbie Crandall. Playing Young Cosette and Gavroche, they had a challenge to do. To be on stage and to be a child in a show like Les Mis is not easy. They still were incredible in their roles.

Some of my Favorite Les Mis lyrics

Well, part of why Les Mis is such a wonderful musical is because of it’s powerful songs. What are some of my favorite lyrics from its songs?

-Even the Darkest Night will End and the Sun Will Raise

-To love Another Person is to See the Face of God

– A Heart full of Love

– A Life About to Start when Tomorrow comes

-Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in Heaven has in store

– A Little Fall of Rain can Hardly Hurt me Now

– Drink with me to days gone by. Can it be you fear to die? Will the world remember you when you fall? Could it be your death means nothing at all? Is your life just one more lie?

-Bring Him Home. Hear my Prayer.

-etc: there are a lot of beautiful lyrics in Les Mis. That is part of why it is a powerful musical

What do I love about Fantine

Another principal character in Les Mis is Fantine.

MAJOR SPOILERS:

The hardest scenes to watch in Les Mis belong to Fantine. She may be one of the principal characters, but has the shortest amount of stage time. What I love the most about her is her unconditional love towards her daughter. Her ultimate demise is not even her- it is actually both society’s and The Thenardiers’ fault.

When she fell in love with Felix and got pregnant with Cosette, he ended up abandoning the two of them. So Fantine was left to fend for herself. In France at the time, it was dangerous to know you had a child out wedlock. She had such a strong love her Cosette, but had no idea what to do now that she was abandoned. She soon had to go to extreme measures and leave Fantine in the hands of the Thenardiers (not knowing how poorly they would treat Cosette). She did find a job at Valjean’s factory; however the Thenardiers kept on demanding more and more money (but those letters were hoaxes telling lies). It was soon discovered she had an illegitimate child- that was what made her get fired from her job. She was even more desperate now- how was she to care for Cosette now? Her life got even worse and now all of her dreams were broken. She hoped that her daughter would have a better life than she currently was having.

Now, she had to take things to even more dangerous measures. “Lovely Ladies” is the hardest scene to watch in Les Mis. She had to end up selling her locket, hair, and even turn to prostitution just for the sake of Cosette. This has always been the hardest scene to watch- once you understand why it had to be there, it makes it a bit easier to watch despite being really hard to watch.

Due to living on the streets, she become severely ill. When she attacked a man in self-defense, Javert did not care that she had a child and just saw her as prostitute. He did not give her any mercy or compassion. Only one person was able to help her- Valjean was there at the time- after realizing that she had a child and was fired from his factory, he ended up preventing her from going in jail and took her to a hospital. Her may not have been able to save her life, but promised to raise Cosette as his own. He stayed with Fantine until she died.

Fantine and Valjean- Come to Me
Fantine and Valjean

Reasons why I still Love Les Mis

There have been people who still can not seem to understand why I still love Les Mis. I usually am asked “why would you still want to see “Les Mis” if you will still feel that way?”. I guess those people do not understand how the connection between emotional connection and negative emotions. I will explain below why I am still a Les Mis fanatic.

I still have a strong emotional connection to the characters, songs, and plot- it is important to form that between all three. If you fall in love with a tragic musical, you need the emotional connection to be strong. In Les Mis, I am NOT just feeling the negative emotions. I am also feeling love, hope, passion, joy, and excitement- those are part of Les Mis as well. When I first saw the movie- I fell in the trap of thinking it was TOO DEPRESSING. I eventually saw the underlying spirituality, which is part of why I am such a strong emotional connection to Les Mis: there are themes of hope, love, forgiveness, compassion, sacrifice, humanity, and redemption in there.

As for the characters, I love the strong connection I have to them. I love most of the principal characters: compassionate and protective Jean Valjean, Fantine, romantic Cosette, romantic and revolutionary Marius; brave and strong Eponine; and passionate and leader, and revolutionary Enjolras. The three other principal characters are obsessive and policeman Javert and the funny, unloving, and abusive Thenardiers. I love the other Friends of the ABC as well. They are so interconnected that they all feel like they belong in Les Mis. I have created such a beautiful bond to these characters. I am surprised that I still can find something new about them each time I see the musical. They will always stay alive in me- even the ones that do die. I love watching their stories unfold on stage even though some are harder to watch than others.

As far as songs: this musical has one of the strongest song lists. Usually in a musical, I can choose my favorite song. However in Les Mis, I cannot seem to choose. From the empowering and epic”One Day More” to the passionate and hopeful “Do you Hear the People Sing” to the bittersweet and heartbreaking “A Little Fall of Rain” to the devastating “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” to the beautiful and soulful “Bring Him Home” to the intimate and heartbreaking “Drink with Me” to the heartbreaking and beautiful “On My Own” to the heartbreaking “I Dreamed a Dream”- there are others that could easily be my favorite. The songs perfectly match the characters and plot. I am still an emotional wreck with these songs- I am glad there is “Master of the House”- it gives you a break- it is comic relief.

As for the plot- it is ultimately a tale about humanity. It is about Jean Valjean’s journey to redemption after being released from prison for stealing a loaf of bread to provide for his family. On top of that, there is a love triangle and an uprising. It is a very complex plot- it can be hard to follow along during the first viewing. It is truly a human story. All of the characters experience some kind of hardship- it truly does show this is what happens in life at times. Everything in the plot is meant to happen: as in if you get rid of one tiny thing, the entire story starts falling apart. It may be a tragedy, but it gives you a message of hope. When a musical is meaningful, it is impossible to stop loving it.

Character Death- How do I deal with It?

We have favorite characters. They either live or they die in the musical. I once thought character death would be UNMEMORABLE, and I thought it wouldn’t happen through song. One musical would change it all- Les Mis made me view chapter death differently- in a positive way. How do I deal with character death?

Major Spoilers:

Do the characters we love who die really die at the end? Yes, we just witnessed the death of characters. But are they truly DEAD. In a way, those characters aren’t dead. Characters like Fantine, Eponine, and basically a ton of other Les Mis characters die- but I have kept them alive. How do you keep those character ALIVE? That basically means they are alive in you. If it is a musical that is meaningful to you, their stories and songs are alive in you. So, even after death, we hold on to them- so they are not truly dead. Understand what I mean? That is how we deal with the death- we hold on to their stories by listening to the songs. As long as the show means something, the characters stay alive in us even if they do die in the show.

A Little Fall of Rain from the Les Mis Movie- Eponine's Death
A Little Fall of Rain

There is ONE more way we can deal with character death. Think about Les Mis. Songs like “Come to Me”, “A Little Fall of Rain”, and “Finale” help. We are comforted by the fact that the characters who do die are not alone. Fantine is with Valjean, Eponine is in the arms of Marius, and Valjean is with Marius and Cosette. Enjolras, Gavroche, and the students are with each other. See what I mean- songs help us deal with it. For some of these characters- their only true moment of peace and comfort is at their death- for some, it actually is their happiest moment of their life (you have to understand characters to figure this out).

Why is it so easy for me to describe why I deal with character death the easiest in Les Mis as opposed to the other musicals I have seen it in?

Spiritual Themes of Les Mis

The other day I was asked what the top three spiritual themes I connect to in Les Mis the most. That is kind of a hard question because they all seem to connect.

Major Spoilers:

Love:

  • One of Les Mis’ most famous quotes is “to love another person is to see the face of God”. Love shows up in various ways in Les Mis. Now that I think of it, love seems to one of Les Mis’ strongest spiritual themes. What are the forms of love in Les Mis?

Family Love

Fantine and Cosette- Cosette is Fantine’s daughter. Fantine is a struggling single mother- Cosette’s biological father abandoned both of them. At the time period, it is dangerous to have an illegitimate child. Fantine was desperate for the care of Cosette- she left Cosette in the care of the Thenardiers (little did she know how poorly they would treat her daughter). She did end up working at Valjean’s factory- soon enough, she got fired after the factory women find out about Cosette. She had to sell her hair, her locket, and eventually herself to provide for Cosette. She cared more for her daughter than herself. She had hopes her daughter would have a better life than she had.

Valjean and Cosette- Valjean became Cosette’s adopted father after her mother died. Valjean promised Fantine he would raise Cosette. Cosette was the first person he loved after leaving prison. Cosette never knew love, but Valjean gave that to her

Valjean and Cosette in the movie musical of Les Mis
Valjean and Cosette

Love for God

The Bishop- the Bishop did love God. He was able to welcome Valjean into his home. He provided Valjean with a meal and a place to sleep. He was showing Valjean compassion. After Valjean stole the Bishop’s silver, he was able to forgive, show mercy and grace. The Bishop told the police that Valjean didn’t steal the silver, but that he gave it to him- the Bishop provided Valjean with the candlesticks.

Valjean- Valjean lived by the example the Bishop showed him. It is why he was able to help Fantine. It was why he was able to become a better person. His love for God was clearly shown during “Bring Him Home”. His love for God is why he was able to do all the things he did after he broke parole- it was why he able to forgive Javert.

Bring Him Home in the stage show of Les Mis
Bring Him Home

Friendship Love

Enjolras and the Students- their bond is so tight that you can see them as a family. They have this brotherly connection to each other. They are so passionate about their cause especially Enjolras, their leader. They never lose their passion- even in the end.

Red and Black in the musical movie of Les Mis
Red and Black

Eponine and Marius- their friendship is not in the book- but it does exist in the musical. It is an unpopular opinion, but I do like their friendship. Marius is the only person in Eponine’s life who treats her kindly- this was the reason why she fell in love with him. He was all she had. He knew her life was tough. People say “I don’t like how Marius treated Eponine”. Here’s the thing- I don’t see that. Here’s how I see Marius- he is sweet, kind, brave, awkward, compassionate, and a revolutionary. Just because he asked Eponine to find Cosette for him does not him rude. Let’s go to act II- at the beginning of it, I believe he sent her away with that letter to Cosette to protect her from the uprising in hopes that she will not get hurt or worse killed. However, she did come back- she did get shot- her wound was fatal. Once Marius realized she was shot, and that her wound was fatal, he was devastated. Despite breaking, he stayed with her- he held her and comforted her- that is compassion- I don’t understand how people can’t see that. Do you know how I knew that Marius knew how dark her life was- it was the words he said after she died- “her name was Eponine. Her life was cold and dark. Yet she was unafraid.” If he wasn’t capable of so much compassion- Marius would have left her to die alone. “A Little Fall of Rain” is the most intimate moment Marius and Eponine have.

A Little Fall of Rain from the musical movie of Les Mis
A Little Fall of Rain

Romance

This exists through a love triangle- Marius x Eponine x Cosette. Marius and Cosette fall in love while Eponine is stuck with unrequited love. The love Marius and Cosette have for each other brings hope to this tragedy. Cosette is supposed to represent hope and light. Cosette life goes from bad to good while Eponine’s life goes from good to bad- those two characters are mirrors of each other. Of all the characters in the love triangle, it is Eponine I love the most- but I still love Marius and Cosette. It is Eponine, who would do anything for Marius no matter the cost- even if that means sacrificing her life for him. If it wasn’t for Eponine, Marius and Cosette never would have ended up together. Marius and Cosette are perfect for each other. The love triangle is so effective that you end up feeling for all three of them- for instance, during “A Heart Full of Love”- it starts out as a duet between Marius and Cosette, and later Eponine joins in- so you are feeling for all three of them.

  • So when it comes to love, I think the types of love that speaks to me the most are love for God, love for friends, love for family, and romance. I think I also can add love for a country- which is part of Enjolras and the students’ love for each other.

Sacrifice:

Sacrifice connects to love. The love the characters have leads them to sacrifice their lives. Fantine’s love for Cosette eventually is why she gets deathly ill. Enjolras’ and the students’ love for the country is why they sacrifice their lives. Eponine’s love for Marius is why she gives up her life for him- when she sees him about to get shot, she takes the fatal shot herself. Valjean’s love for Cosette leads him to the barricade to make sure Marius lives.

Hope:

There is hope for many of the characters, which also seems to connect to the love theme as well. Fantine has hope for her daughter. Eponine’s light is Marius, the boy she falls in love with. Enjolras and the students have hope for the cause they believe in because of their love for their country. Marius and Cosette’s love for each other brings hope to the story. Valjean’s hope is initially through the bishop and later through Cosette, which does lead him to protect Marius.

Conclusion:

I could have included more spiritual themes. Love seems to be the main overarching theme in Les Mis. It connects to many other spiritual themes. People constantly associate love to romance. But, love is not just romance- in Les Mis, it goes way way beyond- love for friends, family, God and the country. The underlying spirituality in Les Mis is why Les Mis goes beyond its tragic nature.

My Overall Opinion of the PBS Masterpiece Les Mis Series

For the past six weeks, I have been watching the PBS Masterpiece Series of Les Mis. Each week on this blog, I did talk about each episode, and what happened. This post will focus on what my overall opinion was.

Major Spoilers:

In my opinion, I felt like this series needed more than six episodes. The last two episodes felt rushed with two subplots. I wished the series could have spent more time on the romance between Marius and Cosette and the Uprising. Those were speed up too quickly just to fit everything in- those are my favorite subplots that happen in Les Mis: the love triangle and the uprising.

What I do love is that the series focused much more on backstory. This series was not based on the musical- it was more book based- even though some things I saw never happened in the book or musical.

We were able to see what happened to Fantine before Felix (Cosette’s biological father) abandoned her- we saw her when she was truly happy. It makes her story much more heartbreaking- not only did we see Felix leaving her, but we also saw Fantine leaving Cosette in the hands of the Thenardiers. Seeing those two elements puts much more pain into her storyline- after all, if you know Les Mis, you do know how poorly the Thenardiers treat Cosette. It was harder for me to watch the “Lovely Ladies” scene in this version- I felt more uncomfortable with it- the scene always made me uncomfortable, but this one was more intense. I actually do love the fact that Azelma is in this series- she is one of the Thenardier children after all.

Thinking of Thenardiers, at the beginning of the series, it starts at the Battle of Waterloo, which helps clear up the fact that Les Mis does not take place during The French Revolution. It does show Thenardier “rescuing” Marius’ father- that scene is important to Marius’ backstory. When it comes to the Thenardiers’, you saw how abusive they really are-when you first saw them, it does appear as if they are “good” people, but after Fantine left them, you eventually saw Azelma and Eponine mistreating Cosette. You saw Cosette being abused at a much deeper level. You saw Gavroche in their house- now you know he is their son. You saw them falling into poverty. This version made me hate the Thenardiers even more- seeing just how poorly they treat Azelma and Eponine- right when Cosette left, we saw a scene with one of their daughters being treated as a servant- so we do realize that if Cosette wasn’t there, both daughters would have treated the same way.

Back to Jean Valjean- in the musical, you have an idea of how prison affected him. What this version is able to do is show you how poorly Toulon really is. You saw that Valjean did believe that love can’t change a man- that was before he was forgiven. You saw multiple scenes of Toulon, and you saw them affecting Valjean at a much deeper level- so you can understand better why he left prison as man with so much anger at society- because of his days in prison. Now one thing never made sense- one plot point never happened- in this series, he fired Fantine- well, in the book, it was a woman foreman who fired Fantine. I did not understand that change.

At the same time- I can now understand why Javert believes “once a criminal always a criminal”- he says Valjean that he was born in jail and that his parents were criminals, and that he learned to hate them- I never really understand that viewpoint- now it makes sense.

Now, I would like to talk about the love triangle. It actually showed a side to Marius that we never get in the musical- a side that shows up only in the book: it is a part of him that makes him complex. This does start when he was a child- you saw his grandfather raising him to believe his father hated him, which he eventually realized wasn’t true. That is what soon led to him having this political conflict- that side is what made him complex-one of the reasons why I love him as a character. Many people say he is annoying and a jerk- but I disagree: yes, even from the book, I never saw him that way. Marius still is a revolutionary- not at first- he is not close to the revolutionaries here- which I did expect- still sticking close to the book.

The love triangle was subtle in the book, and it is in this series, but I did feel like the romance was rushed. I love Marius and Cosette as a couple- but I felt like the series could have spent more time on their relationship. They only had like one scene in the Gardens and two in Rue Plumet- this was before the barricade- wish there was more of them. As far as Eponine goes- I am glad this series focused on what her life was like outside of Marius more than the unrequited love. They do show the unrequited love-yes, but we got several scenes that showed her life outside of him. I knew it was there for all the scenes she had with him (since I saw the musical and read the book), but the first scene she made it clear was right after she led him to Rue Plumet-That was when I realized she was in love with him. The love triangle still feels rushed- even though it still stays subtle like the book- but it is too rushed. Marius and Eponine’s relationship is closer to being acquaintances here- which I was expecting due to knowing this series was following the book. Just like in book, Eponine sacrificed her life for Marius at the barricade, and Marius stayed with her. In both the book and musical, I believe Marius is still this kind, sweet, compassionate, brave, and romantic revolutionary.

Cosette- you have a lot more sympathy for Young Cosette. You actually saw how abused she is. As she gets older, I am glad you saw how overprotected and sheltered she. It does make sense- for starters, Valjean is an ex-convict and is trying not to be recaptured and Cosette means everything to him. What I do love in this series is that it shows Valjean raising Cosette.

Another subplot that I felt is too rushed is the uprising. I love Enjolras and the students. All the uprising events take place in the 5th/6th episode- so much had to happen in those episodes for the story to finish. You already saw a bit of uprising in the 4th episode, but you only got introduced to Enjolras and the students. The 5th episode is more about planning and the beginning of the uprising, but had to end with Valjean leaving for the barricade- I thought that was odd. I wanted more time with them- it was like it was quick action before the uprising even started. The musical makes it always clear who Enjolras is, but at times in the series- I kept on forgetting- you are supposed to always knew which one of the group he is. Literally in the 6th episode after Valjean released Javert, the final battle began- that was too rushed to get there.

Conclusion:

I thought it was a wonderful way to watch Les Mis. I still had moments I was in tears- some of those were moment I was expecting to cry during- “A Little Fall of Rain” for instance. I still think this series needed one or two more episodes. I wished some moments were not rushed- the uprising and romance was too rushed. The 5th and 6th episode were extremely rushed at the start just to fit everything. Some moments happened way too soon- as in should have happened later- reasons why there should have been more than six episodes.