Placement and Staging of Musical Songs

One of the best parts found in musical are the emotions found in the songs. They are felt strongest in the songs- the songs are the first step that makes me fall in love with a musical. I think there is something about placement and the staging of the songs that can affect the emotion. I will explain below.

Placement

The perfect example of placement is found in Les Mis. “I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo, and I have seen this particular song found in two different times of her story. Due to seeing the movie and the stage show, I know how placement can affect the songs. In the stage show, “I Dreamed a Dream” is sung before “Lovely Ladies”. With that placement, you will feel the heartbreak, but at the same time feel this kind of hope. By this moment, all that has happened to Fantine is that she got fired. So there is a little amount of hope.

Well, look what the movie decided to do: they decided to place “I Dreamed a Dream after “Lovely Ladies”. Out of all the Les Mis scenes-“Lovely Ladies” is the hardest scene to watch. By that point, Fantine has been fired, sold her locket, her hair, and turned to prostitution. That allows “I Dreamed a Dream” to be more heartbreaking. The most devastating version I saw of this song was found in the film. With that change, it allows the actress to go more in depth about the emotional nature of the song.

No matter who I get as Fantine- it is always “I Dreamed a Dream” where I really start becoming an emotional wreck.

Staging

This is another Les Mis example. “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is about survivor’s guilt and belongs to Marius. I have seen various ways of this song staged. I think the best example given to this song belongs to the 25th anniversary production. There is just something about the candles that brings out more emotion. Literally, for the entire number, Marius is holding a lighted candle. Eventually all the students come out with a lighted candle as well, but eventually those get blown out leaving Marius all alone in the dark. I actually saw this type of staging done with two actors- Erik D’Esterre and Joshua Grosso.

While I may not exactly remember the portrayals of the Les Mis characters during the community college production, there is some staging I remember. Such as the candle example- I almost feel as if CPCC took some of their inspiration from the 25th anniversary production.

What I Learned from Tragedy

Well, it was back in high school when I first discovered the genre of tragedy. I treated the genre very poorly. Told myself I will NEVER love a tragedy (little did I know what would happen in my first year of college. Throughout all the years I was at Fletcher (referring to high school)- stayed close minded to that genre. Each time one was read, I already did not like any of them.

Then out of the blue in December 2012, I experienced Les Mis for the first time. My family was taking my sister and I to see the film. I actually was unsure coming in, but the only reason why I decided to go is because I knew the song, “I Dreamed a Dream”. I wasn’t even told what genre the musical was so that way I would even go. If I had known Les Mis was a tragedy, that first time never would have happened.

Well it was after Fantine’s death when I realized Les Mis was a tragedy. I was extremely shocked and confused. Never did a tragedy exist in musicals before: all I had seen previously were happy musicals. Nothing made sense at all. I didn’t even know how to respond or feel or react. So that experience was not the best time I even had. Even though I thought Les Mis was TOO DEPRESSING, I somehow came out with “Do You Hear the People Sing” stuck in my head. Then a day or a few weeks later, I don’t know why I did that, but I started researching the musical myself.

March 2013- I don’t know why I decided to watch the film again. That time around, I got so much more out of Les Mis. It helped a lot knowing ahead of time that I was seeing a tragedy. I was able to realize there was something special about Les Mis, and at the same time, I felt uplifted at the end. That made no sense at all- I originally thought all tragedies were pure sad. But after the 2nd chance, the rest is history.

Halton Theater

By Summer of 2013, I was obsessed with Les Mis. I had dug quite deep into the musical trying to figure out why I felt uplifted. I soon found the answer: the themes of hope, love, forgiveness, compassion, sacrifice, humanity, and redemption were why. That same year, the community college I attended put on a phenomenal production of that musical. I was there three times: first with family on Nov. 15, and an usher the 17th and 24th. That production truly was the motor for wanting to see Les Mis in the West End.

Well, July 30th, 2015 was when I saw the West End production. I already was going to be in England that year for a Bristol Pilgrimage, which would start in London. My family went up two days early to get used to the time change and get more out of London. I was seeing Les Mis with my mom, and our seats were the 9th row back from the stage. It was surreal at first- from seeing the Queen’s Theater to buying souvenirs to noticing I had an understudy for Valjean to seeing the set to seeing how close I was- nothing felt real. Then after I heard the first notes of the orchestra, I knew this was no dream, but a dream becoming reality. Those first notes also told me it was going to be more than expected, and they were right.

What do you know: Nov. 5th, 2017 was my fifth time seeing the stage show. This time I was with Gardner Webb University. Once again had a understudy (this time for Eponine). I was seeing it in Greenville at the gorgeous Peace Center. I came in fresh meaning I wasn’t go to compare the cast to my West End. Making that decision made me see the US Tour cast for what they were, and was able to respect and appreciate my understudy. It actually lived up to the West End cast in their own way. After all, this was the 25th anniversary production: it felt like it had more Victor Hugo in it, and it truly showed the vastness of Paris. There were some scenes I loved a lot more in this particular production: for example, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”.

Peace Center

What do you know again: that every other year pattern continued. This time, I experienced the US Tour with Blumenthal. That was Nov. 3rd, 2019, and was another date with my mom. 2019 had five of the exact same actors/actresses playing the same role as 2017- the Javert (Josh Davis), Cosette (Jillian Butler), Marius (Joshua Grosso), Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker), and Madame Thenardier (Allison Guinn). Another thing happened again: another understudy (for Valjean).

Just like 2017, Joshua Grosso and Matt Shingledecker were still standouts. I can easily say why Joshua was a standout, but not for Enjolras. As a matter of fact, Joshua has become my favorite Marius- part comes from his chemistry with Cosette, part came from an added personality trait (awkwardness), and part from how he interacted with Eponine. Due to that, I was able to explore Marius and Cosette a bit further, but at the same time not ignoring Eponine. That new personality trait made Marius a much more charming character- due to that, Marius is almost a core favorite character.

Ovens Auditorium

So in a short period of time- four theaters, four casts, and in total six times. The stage show might only have four casts, but I have seven casts in total: I also have seen the film, 25th concert, and the staged concert of 2019 (which I saw in cinemas). I think it is crazy how for some characters, I only have five actors, some I have six, and for some seven. 2019 was filled with a number of repeats—part of which were from my West End cast and the rest the US Tour.

Les Mis truly taught me a lot about the genre of tragedy. What I once believed about tragedies and what I knew about musicals were challenged. I never knew a tragedy is not just a tragedy. Due to Les Mis’ spiritual side, it makes it inspiring and uplifting. Due to the nature of the book, it makes perfect sense why the musical is sung-through. Through several of the songs, there is some kind of spiritual nature happening. Compassion is shown at death scenes, most of the characters have hope, etc……I believed that death scenes would be both unmemorable and that song couldn’t happen at those moments. I thought I knew the full capability of musical emotions, but Les Mis truly showed me a different side to emotions: due to heartbreak entering the picture, it strengthened them and made them more powerful. I think I had a hard time with tragedies at first because the word can through you off guard, and it seems as if I didn’t know “catharsis”- that is why tragedies are more and make you have a positive experience and not the other way around.

Les Mis is the reason why I am passionate about musicals. I actually am able to pick up on negative emotions faster in other musicals. It still is odd going back to Fletcher remembering how I once felt about the genre. Les Mis proved me wrong in more ways then none.

Negative Emotions- What is the Point

The musical theatre world is known to be comical and funny, but also emotional. True, there are a LOT of happy musicals, but there are tragic ones (which I learned the hard way). In middle school, through Wicked, I was able to discover sad- as in it came to the forefront meaning it became a core emotion. I defiantly knew it was common by just ONE musical. So I was able to understand WHY we needed sad in musicals- it was for believability and for a character to become complex; there were some things that were missing that I didn’t realize. At least I understood something- the basic point of sad, and that it existed and was core.

Then, Les Mis entered. I had told myself TRAGEDIES did not exist in musicals. I had told myself emotion couldn’t push past sad- meaning I did not know it could NOT get more devastating then it already was. That basically means I was blind to HEARTBREAK. I had told myself DEATH was unmemorable and that there was no way a song could exist in a death scene. Well, you got all of those disproven in just ONE musical. I had to learn this the hard way. The first time I watched the film- I was shocked and confused, and believe it or not called Les Mis TOO DEPRESSING and did not know if I liked it. I had told myself in high school, I would NEVER love a tragedy- that might be part of why I was having a hard time with Les Mis in the beginning. YES, that was the beginning of my Les Mis journey. December 2012.

March 2013 (I think)- I don’t know why, but I told myself to watch that Les Mis film a 2nd time. This time, by knowing Les Mis was tragic, I was able to calm down. I began to notice something- there was something about the musical that makes it more than tragic. I noticed it strongly at the end- I felt uplifted, but I wanted to know why. I went from calling it too depressing to calling it inspiring and uplifting.

So, the core emotions of sad and heartbreak are meant to be in musicals. They actually are in more musicals then non-musical fans think: Wicked, Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, South Pacific, Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, West Side Story, Rent and Les Mis- I intentionally ended with the tragic musicals to show that even happy musicals have sad and tragic moments. Why do you think there has to be sad and heartbreaking moments in musicals?

Well, music is an universal language. Sad and heartbreak are a part of life- those two lead to other emotions. In the musical world- sad and heartbreak are also connected to love. The strongest of musicals have heartbreak in them. Those make the musicals feel more real and complex. If sad and heartbreak did not exist- there would not be conflict in musicals at all. Conflict is the cause of heartbreaking, sad, and tragic events. Think about the love triangles and the tragic love stories- there would have to be heartbreak, loneliness, anger and pain or else they would become dry and wouldn’t be needed. The love triangles I love the most are complex, strong, and add texture to those musicals: Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis, and Wicked automatically come to mind.

How would you feel if sad and heartbreak did NOT exist in musicals?

Not Expecting Someone to Enter your Life

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post. Yes, it will be connected to another Les Mis character. This time instead of Jean Valjean, our protagonist, it will be Eponine, who is one of the lead characters.

I do not think Eponine was expecting someone like Marius to enter her life. Think about it: she was raised by unloving, abusive, neglectful, and criminal parents. She had a better life as a child- than after Jean Valjean rescued Cosette, her life started to become even worse. Her parents did not care about her or love her. They were only being cruel and abusive towards her and using her for their advantage. She was raised as a thief and criminal- being watchdog for the law. She was not expecting anyone to show kindness or compassion towards her.

MAJOR SPOILERS:

Than Marius entered her life. He ended up showing her kindness. She had never come across someone like him before. He was not treating her poorly. The kindness he was showing her led her to fall in love with him. Yes, the love was unrequited. However, they became close friends. He was the only light and goodness in her life. He was the only good thing in her life. Even when he fell in love with Cosette, he still was an important part of Eponine’s life. The love she had for Marius was deep and strong- Eponine would do anything for Marius. You realize just how strong it was during “On My Own”. She was the reason why Marius and Cosette got together, why her father was not able to rob Valjean’s house, and she would go as far as sacrificing her life for him at the barricade. Literally, at the barricade, Eponine gave her life for Marius.

Marius was devastated when he found that Eponine was dying. However, he did not leave her side. This does show just how compassionate Marius is. This was actually Eponine’s happiest moment of her life: the fact that she ended up dying in Marius’ arms. You have to understand Eponine to fully understand the bittersweet nature of “A Little Fall of Rain”. So Marius is quite important to Eponine’s life.

What do I love about Eponine

Eponine is the third and final wing of the love triangle in Les Mis.

Eponine: Major Spoilers

Part of what makes you love a character connects to their backstory. Eponine and Cosette are mirrors of each other. Eponine is one of the Thenardier children. During “Castle on a Cloud”, you discover that The Thenardiers are abusive and during “Master of the House”, you realize that they are in fact pickpockets. So during those two moments, you begin to get a general idea of the environment that Eponine is going to be growing up in. When she is a child, you think she is loved by her family. She also does mistreat Cosette due to following her parent’s lead. Everything changes for Eponine once Valjean rescues Cosette. The Thenardiers begin treating Eponine in the same way they treated Cosette.

Growing up, Eponine was raised to be a thief and criminal. She was forced to be a part of her father’s schemes. She ended up living in extreme poverty. She ended up this abused, neglected, and unloved teenager. She lives a dark and tragic life. She was not shown kindness by anyone except for Marius. She fell in love with Marius because of the kindness he showed her. Where does my love for Eponine fit into any of this?

My love for Eponine comes from her bravery and strength. It also comes from how she responds to her unrequited love. It is a deep and strong love. She will do anything for Marius no matter what. She needed him in her life, or else there wouldn’t be any kind of light in her life. There is a reason why she helped find Cosette for him; why she stood up to her father; why she went to the barricade; and why she sacrificed her life for him;- it all had to do with her love for him. People might see her love for Marius a weakness, but in reality it is her greatest strength. “On My Own” shows just how strong and deep her love for Marius is and that she accepts that Marius will never be hers. Even though she does die in the end, at least Marius was there.

Eponine (Samantha Barks)- "On My Own" from the Les Mis Film
Eponine