Death in Musicals-Happiness

Well, there are tragic musicals. That would mean characters do die in some of them. There is one thing that might be a bit surprising, which did surprise me as well. There are actually deaths that have joy in them. That would not make sense. When we think of death- we think of grief and mourning. We do not even think that happiness could happen. Well, there actually is and the only way to understand is to understand the character. Les Mis is where I first saw deaths as memorable. SPOILERS.

First up is Fantine’s death. What we have seen is nothing but tragedy in her storyline. She literally was left alone to care for her daughter, Cosette. She is a struggling single mother, who left her daughter in the hands of the Thenardiers (little does she know the abuse Cosette will face). She did find a job at Valjean’s factory, but was fired. Well, this is when things get uncomfortable- her life has literally shattered: her dreams are broken and she had to nothing left to do but become a prostitute (“Lovely Ladies” is the hardest scene to watch). She is suffering a lot, but it is all of an unconditional love for her daughter. She eventually became seriously ill due to living on the streets, but luckily Valjean came to help her. When she was dying, he made a promise to raise Cosette-this gave her peace and comfort for once and a bit of happiness. So you see, you have to understand her love and hope for Cosette to figure this one out.

Come to Me
Come to Me

Second is Eponine’s death. Eponine is another tragic character. She is an unloved, abused, and neglected teenager. She grew up in the criminal world and ended up living in extreme poverty. She was never shown kindness by anyone. She literally only had one good thing in her life-Marius, who also was the only person who showed her kindness. Due to that, she fell in love with him, but unrequitedly. She was more loyal to him then her parents. She would do anything for him no matter the cost, which eventually led her to the barricade. She ended up sacrificing her life for him, which left Marius devastated, but at least he showed her compassion by holding her in his arms and giving her comfort by staying there until her death. The happiness comes from Marius being there. So once again another example.

A Little Fall of Rain from the Les Mis film- Samantha Barks (Eponine) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius)
A Little Fall of Rain

Jean Valjean’s death is another example. He is our main character and is the father of Cosette. After all, he is the one who promised to raise Cosette after Fantine died. Cosette meant a lot to Valjean. Cosette had a better life once Valjean entered (she used to live with Eponine’s parents). After Cosette and Marius married, they ended up going to Valjean as he was dying. So he was able to see Cosette one last time- that is where the happiness comes from.

Finale

So you see, even tough moments can have the positive emotions going on. I never once would have though that even some of the most heartbreaking moments could possibly have happiness in it. It all comes down to understanding who characters are. The tragic musics, you need to be able to pick up on the positive emotions or else the trap of calling the musical TOO DEPRESSING comes up- that is what I originally called Les Mis. In Les Mis, I had to dig deeper to find what why I felt uplifted at the end because it did not make sense. All of the characters have their tragedies and their hopes- even the most tragic characters have some kind of light going on. Even the survivors have something tragic to deal with. You just have to understand characters to understand what I am talking about.

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 fault- 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 Cosette 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.