The French Musicals I Love

One of the main things I wanted to do more of on my blog is to talk MORE about the musicals that barely get credit on this blog. This post will help with that. I love three musicals that take place in France: Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera, and Beauty and the Beast. Of all three, it is Beauty and the Beast that does not get much mention on my blog.

The US Tour Cast of Les Mis during "One Day More"
One Day More

Les Misérables, as so many people know, is such a meaningful musical to me. It takes place in France post French Revolution and follows a ton of characters (mainly Jean Valjean), which all leads to the June Rebellion of 1832. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but full of so much hope, courage, and passion. It is about Jean Valjean’s journey on becoming a better person- his transformation is incredible to watch. There is a love triangle and rebellion- two of the other major storylines. It starts in 1815 and ends in 1832- that is a 17 year span. I learned a lot from Les Mis, and showed me a side to musicals I never saw before. There are so many rarities in Les Mis, and part of what makes it so special. There is something in Les Mis that touches your heart and soul in such a way that words alone can’t describe.

Those songs continue to touch me in so many ways. Usually in a musical, I have a favorite song, but in Les Mis I can’t choose one. I even struggle with picking my top ten. These songs are extremely powerful, and can hit you like a pile of bricks. These songs do reduce me to tears, but because I am so emotionally connected to the material, I have nothing wrong with feeling that way. I love a number of Les Mis characters that I can’t choose my favorite Les Mis character.

The Phantom

The Phantom of the Opera takes places in the same century as Les Mis, but in the later part of the 1800s. The entire story is basically a love triangle found between Christine, Phantom, and Raoul. It is a hauntingly beautiful musical with so much beauty and mystery. I have always seen Christine as the main character, and have always loved her and Raoul as a couple, and would not have it any other way. It takes place in the Paris Opera house.

Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera are so obvious that they BOTH take place in France.

Belle and Beast during the song, "Beauty and the Beast" in the original film
Belle and Beast

Of all three musicals, Beauty and the Beast does not make it that clear where it takes place. It is hard to notice that it takes place in France. However, there are clues that make you know it defiantly takes place in the country. In the prologue, it says “France” and even in the song, “Be Our Guest”, Lumiere has a line that says something like “this is France”. Look at characters’ names- Lumiere, Belle, and Gaston. Beauty and the Beast for sure takes place in France. However, what makes it so hard to remember that this musical takes place in France?

Well for one, the line in the prologue and “Be Our Guest” is only one line, which can easily be forgotten later on. It is still one of the three musicals I love that takes place in France. Like Phantom of the Opera, it is another romance that I love. Yes, Belle is prisoner in Beast’s castle, and yes, to some people it seems as if she is falling in love with an animal, but don’t forget the Beast is really a human. He is a human under a curse, which turned him into a Beast. So Belle did not fall in love with an animal. There is something enchanting and magical about Beauty and the Beast.

About the songs, they are a combination of showtunes, romance, and emotional songs. “Beauty and the Beast” is my favorite song from the musical. There is something about Disney love songs- there is this kind of magic in them- this kind of innocence as well. Belle and Beast fall in love slowly over time. Belle is against Beast at first, but as Beast begins to soften up, they slowly begin to have feelings for each other, and then fall in love. Both of these characters are amazing. I love the enchanted objects as well.

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Where Musicals Have Taken Place

Musicals have an unique set of places that they happen to take place in. Some are fictional and some actually exist. Due to the different locations, it affects the different storylines and the characters. Some musicals do take place in the same state or the same country. I will put the musical that takes place in each country.

  1. OZ- Wicked
  2. Arendelle- Frozen
  3. Agrabah- Aladdin
  4. France- American in Paris, Beauty and the Beast, Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera
  5. New York- West Side Story, Hello Dolly, Annie, Rent, Newsies
  6. California- La La Land, Singing in the Rain
  7. Missouri- Meet Me in St. Louis
  8. Oklahoma- Oklahoma
  9. South Pacific- South Pacific
  10. Iowa- Music Man
  11. Maryland- Hairspray
  12. Austria- Sound of Music
  13. Russia- Fiddler on the Roof
  14. Spain- Man of La Mancha
  15. England- Mary Poppins
  16. Greece- Mamma Mia
  17. Africa- Lion King
  18. The Circus- Pippin

Of all of those locations, my favorite has been OZ. Everything about Wicked feels OZian: from dance to spectacle to costumes to set: basically everything feels OZian. It is hard to believe that musicals take place in all of these states, fictional lands, and countries. Musicals have a wide variety of settings. In France, the Paris Opera House is a fun location. I did not know where Pippin took place, but I said circus due to the revival.

What are some your favorite musical locations?  What are some locations you have seen a musical take place in?

June Rebellion of 1832

Possible major or minor spoilers

Today is Veteran’s day. When it comes to this day, I tend to think about the June Rebellion of 1832 at times. People tend to think the uprising in Les Mis is the French Revolution, but it actually takes place after the Revolution. This took place on June 5th and 6th of 1832. and was very unsuccessful. As a matter of fact, Victor Hugo actually witnessed this rebellion.

This was the uprising that Victor Hugo decided to use in his masterpiece, Les Misérables. In the musical, the uprising consisted of a group of young college students. The reason why they started this uprising was due to the very weak government. General Lamarque was the only person in the government who showed compassion and kindness towards the poor. When the students decided to arrange this uprising, General Lamarque was dying of cholera.

This uprising was lead by the passionate leader, Enjolras. In total there were nine main members of this  political student group. This group stayed passionate towards the end no matter what. There was a moment in the show where Valjean realized that Cosette loved Marius. Valjean was conflicted between if he should save Marius or should he not because of how much Cosette means to him. He decided to join the students in order to save Marius’ life.

The uprising mainly takes place in the second act. At the beginning, Eponine decides to join Marius at the barricades. She is disguised as a boy, but Marius recognizes her and asks her to deliver a letter to Cosette. Eponine loves Marius unrequitedly, but she does do what Marius asks of her. Marius sees Eponine as no more than a friend and only has eyes for Cosette. Marius only sent her away to protect her from the uprising and wants her safe.

Well, she does deliver the letter, but she still returns to the barricade. While climbing over the barricade, she gets shot and unfortunately her wound ends up being fatal. Despite knowing that she is dying, Eponine still climbs down the barricade to tell Marius that she delivered the letter. Marius has no clue that Eponine is dying at this point. He soon realizes after she collapsed in his arms. But Marius shows her compassion and stays with her till the end. This does leave Marius devastated because he truly cared about Eponine and was fully aware of how unhappy Eponine was. The fact that Eponine got to die in the arms of the man she loved actually gave her peace, comfort, and happiness for once. That is why the scene is so bittersweet and touching. I feel devastated that Eponine is dying, but feel joy knowing that she is happy for once in her life.

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After Eponine died, the students realized how outnumbered they really were. Valjean joined soon after the first death. Even Valjean knew that there was a chance that Marius would not survive the battle. “Drink with Me” is a very sweet song, but the students truly felt hopeless during this number. They realized the situation they have put themselves because they already witnessed a death. Marius at this moment was still devastated at the loss of Eponine.

After the students decided to sleep for the night, Valjean prayed to God that Marius needs to live. This takes place during a very delicate and beautiful song, “Bring Him Home”. This song shows that Valjean would do anything for his adopted daughter even if it means losing her forever. Valjean realized he does not have much time left because he is old.

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The next day, the students still felt hopeless, but yet still had the passion. Gavroche was the second person who died at the barricades. He jumped over the barricade to collect more ammunition, but was killed in the process. But he died a hero because he jumped over the barricade to collect more ammunition. This truly upset the students even more. The government was telling them they should just give up because they had no chance. They still fought despite what they were told. All of students including Enjolras died during the final battle, but they still stood up for what they believed in even though they lost.

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Marius was the lucky one who survived thanks to Valjean. Marius was severely wounded and fell unconscious. Valjean carried Marius through the sewers in order to rescue him. If it wasn’t for Valjean, Marius would have died as well. Marius went through survivor’s guilt wishing he died too.

The June Rebellion may have been a forgotten piece of history, but it is still well known. All because of one book, the June Rebellion will always be remembered. The June Rebellion reflects the fact that France had a very weak government after the French Revolution. There were several rebellions and Victor Hugo actually witnessed the June Rebellion, which is why it is part of his famous novel.

Underground

Martyr

Review of “The Brick”

Why is Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables, known as “the brick”?

Just last summer, I decided to read the unabridged version of the “brick”. The reason why Victor Hugo’s book is called “the brick” is because of the length. The unabridged book is over one thousand pages and seems intimidating at first. The title also seems to lead people away from the book because it means “the miserable”, which indicates that the book is going to be a heartbreaking and tragic book.

But there is way more to the story then heartbreak and tragedy.  It takes a lot of work to see beyond that and once you realize what is at the core of the book, it makes the storyline so much better.

I decided to set a goal and told myself I will finish it by the end of the summer. I was inspired to read the unabridged book  because of the musical. I was interested in learning more about the book that Les Mis was based off of. Coincidentally, just like the musical, the book was also panned by critics. Victor Hugo once said “I don’t know if everyone will read this book, but it is meant for everyone”. Victor Hugo wrote a book that is about the survival of the human spirit. Les Misérables is one of the greatest stories ever told.

This is a  basic summary: a bit lengthy, possible minor spoilers

Its protagonist, Jean Valjean, is one of the most memorable and best characters in the world of literature. Jean Valjean had a terrible background by serving nineteen years in prison just for stealing a loaf of bread in order to provide for his sister and her children. This experience turned him from a good man to a man filled with anger and hatred. After being released, he had to be on parole forever. No one would give him a place to sleep or a place to eat just because he was an ex-convcit. That made him believe society will always hate him. But he was offered mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness by the humble bishop. The bishop gave him a meal and a place to sleep.

But Valjean was desperate and stole the bishop’s silver and was caught. But the bishop lied and said that the silver was a gift and gave him the silver candlesticks, which will serve as a reminder of the bishop’s kindness. The bishop was able to forgive him and taught Valjean the ways of the Lord. From that point on, Valjean decided to live by the example of the bishop. On top of that, there are is the love triangle between Marius, Cosette, and Eponine, the tragic tale of Fantine, and the uprising  that the students are planning.

This story is about Valjean’s journey from a harsh man filled with anger and hate to a man filled with compassion and goodness to saintlike. He dedicated his life to the Lord and made a promise to the prostitute, Fantine, that he would raise her daughter, Cosette, as his own. Cosette was the first person he ever loved. Cosette and Valjean were both broken and they helped heal each other.

Overall, this book gave me a better glimpse into the time period that these characters lived. Victor Hugo created a book that realistically described early 19th Century, France. He  actually created some of his characters based of experience. The love story between Marius and Cosette  was based off the love between his first lover and him. He saved a prostitute from being arrested after a customer harassed her, which made him wonder if she had a child and Fantine was created. Hugo actually witnessed the June Rebellion of 1832.

It is hard to give a basic summary of the book. That shows that the storyline line is extremely  complex, but very real. It may be heartbreaking, but the book gives you a wonderful glimpse of spirituality. It is ultimately a story of sacrifice, hope, compassion, love, forgiveness, and redemption. That is why Hugo’s story manages to uplift you and why it is so inspirational.

One of the most annoying and frustrating things about the book is that sometimes Victor Hugo interrupts the plot with boring history lessons. He would go into fifty or so pages about the battle of waterloo or twenty pages about the sewers of the Paris, etc. But I did not skip over them because my goal was to finish the entire book. But I understand why he wrote that way. You realize it helps you understand the storyline.

Victor Hugo is so clever with his book. He somehow was able to connect all these different characters though several coincidences. The characters all happened to be at the right place at the right time. For example, the Thenardiers and Marius ended up being neighbors at the same place Valjean and Cosette once lived. Cosette also seems to link the characters together. She is Fantine’s daughter, was adopted by Valjean,  part of a love triangle with Eponine and Marius. Because she was Valjean’s adopted daughter, she was always on the run to stay away from Javert and because Marius was a reluctant revolutionary, she connected to the students.

I was aware when I read the unabridged book that characterizations were going to be different, but that wasn’t going to stop me from loving the characters from the stage show. The Thenardier family was one of the most obvious difference in the book. Monsieur and Madame Thenardier were more wicked in the book and did not serve as comic relief.

You get a better glimpse into the poverty that the family faced. You become aware that Gavroche was indeed a Thenardier, which is not referenced in the musical. Eponine, one of my favorite characters in the musical, was slightly different as well. She was less loving in the book and she lives a more darker life in the book. She wasn’t that pretty in the book either. At times, she does become jealous between the love between Marius and Cosette, which makes her act in selfish and self-destructive  ways at times.

This book gets you a better glimpse into the bishop. The bishop plays a small, but crucial role in the story. Without him, you technically don’t really have a story. Without him, Valjean’s journey would not have been wonderful. The bishop helped Valjean raise above from where he came from.

Other characters include the obsessed Javert, the wicked and abusive Thenardiers’, the streetwise and tough Eponine, the self-sacrificing and tragic Fantine, the revolutionary and lover Marius, and the innocent and angelic Cosette and passionate and revolutionary Enjolras.

I may have read the unabridged book last summer, but had a lasting impact on the powerful, epic, and inspirational musical. This book helped make me appreciate the musical even more and it made the spirituality become more alive in the musical. The musical faithfully reflects the book despite all of the characterization differences, but those differences are for the show’s benefit. The book is so powerful and covered in several emotions. It spans over seventeen years.

You become more impressed at how the over one thousand page book was condensed into a three hour musical. I used my knowledge of the musical to understand the book. I was able to mark up major characters and write in song names. In a lot of ways, I find this story to be more inspirational then heartbreaking. These characters feel so real to you and you truly can care about every one of these characters even if you don’t like them.

Hint: if anyone wants to read the unabridged version of this book, make sure to have a dictionary at hand and mark up things that will help you understand the story. If you are a fan of the musical, I suggest you use your knowledge of the musical to read this book. I know it helped me.