Five Years Ago- A Dream

Well, what is hard to believe is that I was in England five years ago. My family arrived on July 29th. When we landed in London, I did not even believe I was actually in London. It took until seeing West End fliers that I actually knew for a fact we were there. One of the first things we did was get some coffee at Costa Coffee. We ended up being the same Costa my family would be meeting the rest of the 72 pilgrims: just so we would know where that was.

However, what is exactly the significance about July 30th, 2015. That was the day when it actually felt like my family was doing something. It all began on Platform 9 and 3/4 and getting Harry Potter souvenirs. After getting some lunch and visiting Paddington Station, we had to go back to our hotel. For the 29th and the 30th, my family stayed at a nicer hotel.

We had to go back kind of early to the hotel. That was really important for my mom and I. That summer, my mom and I already had one theater date: to Pippin at Blumenthal’s Belk Theater. But on July 30th, my mom and I had a 2nd theater date. This time, I was seeing a musical in The West End, but it was Les Mis. I think things came full circle from the time I saw Wicked on Broadway to the time when I saw Les Mis in the West End. My family had to get back to the hotel kinda of early afternoon to get dressed and to figure out how to get to The West End from our hotel.

There are multiple things I loved about that night. I am glad that my sister and dad got their own date. My sister is not into musical theater like I am. My mom loved musicals growing up- that is why we have been to as many theater dates we do. For another- this actually happened one day before the actual Bristol Pilgrimage. Still, how did this production end up being in 2015, two years after seeing the stage show for the first time. Well, I didn’t start convincing my parents to take me to Les Mis in 2013- there was no sign yet of going up early. But I was told it would be two days early November of 2014, but it was December of 2014 when I was told I would see a show in The West End: but which was it. I had to wait until June 2015 to figure that out: my mom texted me French Flag and Musical note Emojis, and I was confused. I then was told to check my email, and the moment I read Les Misérables, I ran up to my mom crying.

Well, the moment I saw the Queen’s Theater, it felt surreal. From that to buying souvenirs to noticing how close I was to seeing the set, nothing felt real. But the moment I saw that I heard the the first notes of the orchestra- I knew for a fact that this dream was becoming reality. Those first notes also told me that this production will be more than expected. I had one cultural shock in the West End: buying the playbill- I am so used to being handed the playbill at the door: not buying it.

“I Dreamed a Dream”

Since I am so used to the US Terms, I barely use the word Stalls to describe where I was seating. My mom and I were in the 9th row from the stage. I actually had an understudy this night= for Valjean. Little did I know I would see some of those actors again- just not in person.

My West End Cast:

Valjean-Adam Bayjou (understudy)

Javert- Jeremy Secomb

Fantine-Rachelle Ann Go

Cosete- Zoe Doano

Marius- Rob Houchen

Eponine- Carrie Hope Fletcher

Enjolras- Bradley Jaden

Thenardiers- Phil Daniels and Katy Secombe

My thoughts on the Cast:

This cast was brilliant. They literally were more than expected: that ranges from the ensemble to the principal actors. I might have had an understudy as Valjean, but it never felt that way. This cast will always be special to me due to living a dream with them. At curtain call, I never stand up until a lead comes, but this time, I stood up right away. This cast was actually my 2nd stage show- but 4th cast all together: that is if you include the film and 25th concert. Les Mis means a lot- Wicked might have sparked a love, but Les Mis transformed that love into a passion. Growing up I did not know the West End existed- it actually was Central Piedmont Community College’s production that ended up being the motor for wanting to see Les Mis in London. I never really get to see Big Name actors/actresses- usually I see actors that are not Big Names, but have the potential to become one.

There was something that was really new about this production. In the past, I NEVER found common ground or sympathy for Javert. But when I saw Jeremy Secomb as Javert, I finally could feel that sympathy that was missing. That is a huge reason why Adam Bayjou/Jeremy Secomb was my strongest Valjean/Javert dynamic so far. Well, my strongest love triangle dynamic was found in London as well: I find it interesting that your strongest dynamic for a subplot may not individually consist of your favorite actors/actresses for a character. That was the case for my West End love triangle.

Before this production, I already knew who these characters were. After all, I spent a lot of time watching the film, reading the book, and researching the musical. I already knew who I had an emotional connection with: Valjean, Fantine, Eponine, and Enjolras and the students- those are my core favorite characters. I started being an emotional wreck right after Valjean was released- and that lasted till the end. There were emotions I felt in characters that was never felt before. I think I know why: it wasn’t just because of the actors, but due to reading the unabridged book the same summer and living a dream were huge reasons why.

Here is what I did after seeing the West End Production. I made the decision to not compare future casts to these actors. That would be unfair especially if you have an understudy. In addition, you wouldn’t be able to see the casts for who they are. The US Tour followed after- in 2017 and 2019. I originally thought it was in the West End where I was the most taken off guard, but it wasn’t. It actually was found within the US Tour. Here is what is fascinating about three of my stage casts- my 2015/2017/2019 casts all had an understudy: Adam Bayjou as Valjean, Talia Simone Robinson as Eponine, and Andrew Maughan as Valjean.

The love triangle sure took things for a turn in 2017/2019: usually, Eponine is the strongest actor or ends up being just as good as Marius, but not in the US Tour. Due to who I had as Marius and Cosette- Joshua Grosso and Jillian Butler, I was able to explore Marius and Cosette at a much deeper level. Especially who I had as Marius: Joshua actually made that character almost a core favorite. I saw these two paired with two Eponine actresses- it was interesting seeing how the love triangle could change with just one character.

How many Les Mis casts do I have? I have eight Les Mis casts- the film, 25th concert, community college, West End, US Tour- 2017/2019, 2019 Concert in Cinemas, and 10th concert. Who the Les Mis characters became is a combo of book/musical/my actors/actresses. It is kinda of odd bringing up the film and the 2019 concert- I experienced both in cinemas, but my opinion of Les Mis was different. When I first saw the film, I literally did not know how to respond, react, or feel: I wasn’t told Les Mis was a tragedy so that why I would go- I was no where close to being an emotional wreck. By the time I saw the 2019 concert in cinemas- I already was an emotional wreck and already obsessed with Les Mis. In some ways, I might have a 9th cast- if I decide to include the PBS Masterpiece Series.

Let me just say who my favorite actor for these characters are:

Valjean- can’t decide

Javert- Jeremy Secomb

Fantine- hard decision

Cosette- Jillian Butler

Marius- Joshua Grosso

Eponine- Samantha Barks (has the advantage of being first)

Enjolras- literally, like ALL Enjolras actors are fantastic

Thenardiers- Katy Secombe and Phil Daniels

Conclusion

Still can’t believe I was in London five years ago. As souvenirs I got the playbill (that was a cultural shock), poster, and a t-shirt. It actually was fitting that I saw Les Mis in London- the next day, the Bristol Pilgrimage would begin. So went from Valjean’s spiritual journey to my own. So, some of my favorite actors for these characters might seem puzzling, but you still have to keep in mind I live in the US.

Journey with Les Mis- the Best Way

Well, so many people on this blog know I am obsessed with Les Mis. I actually know an incredible way to show that journey. I actually experienced the musical twice in cinemas- film and 2019 London staged concert. Well, the difference has nothing to do with cast. It has more to do with what I thought about the musical. That probably makes more sense once I explain.

The Film- First Experience

It was December 2012. I actually came into Les Mis unsure what to think of it. I only know one song (“I Dreamed a Dream”, and was aware of two actresses- Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway (here’s what I didn’t know- I actually knew about a third- I was raised on Harry Potter films, so Helena Bonham Carter was the third, but didn’t know it).

There were certain things I was blind to. This first experience was the most negative experience I ever had with the musical. My parents initially kept me blind that Les Mis was a tragedy. If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But once I figured that out, I did not know to react, feel or even respond. I wasn’t even close to being an emotional wreck. Due to that, I did completely forget about what I what I thought of the actors, actresses, and characters.

I came away from the film saying TOO DEPRESSING, but still had “Do You the People Sing” stuck in my head. So I couldn’t figure out if I loved Les Mis or not. What was weird was that soon after, I started researching the musical.

2019 London Stage Concert- In Cinemas

By this point, already saw the film so many times I had to buy a 2nd copy, seen the 25th concert maybe more than twenty times, and saw the stage show six times. I think that does say something about my love for that musical. Les Mis is why I am passionate about musicals. It actually was after the 2013 Central Piedmont Community College where I formed a dream for seeing it in the West End. That came true July 30th, 2015 with understudy (Adam Bayjou) as Valjean. Went to stage door and met the actor who played Valjean.

Let me actually compare and contrast the two experiences with the film and this particular concert. The first time, negative experience, not emotional wreck, and did not quite interpret Les Mis the right way. Something tells me I must have been connected somehow to at least one character- now that I think of it, most likely it was Fantine and the students. I say that because I knew about “I Dreamed a Dream” and was stuck with “Do You the People Sing” in my head. I subconsciously was most likely attached to even more. Giving the film a 2nd chance was key—I do know that was when I formed an emotional connection to Eponine.

As for the 2019 concert, I had no choice but to see it in Cinemas due to living in the US. This time was not a negative experience, but positive. I already became a massive fan of the musical and massive fan of musicals. There are a lot of memories in between- the times seeing the stage show. This concert was my first experience of seeing a concert of Les Mis in cinemas. What was interesting is that the concert had actors/actresses I had seen once before-part were my West End cast, and the other repeats the 25th concert.

Just like expected- the staged concert made me an emotional wreck, and just like usual “I Dreamed a Dream” was the first moment where I literally was in tears- no actress had failed at that. After, still continued to feel that that way. Here is what is incredible- my mom and I had three Les Mis dates: West End, US Tour 2019, and Staged Concert. So how did I go from this not liking Les Mis to developing a strong and massive love for Les Mis? My emotional response was built up over time- eventually becoming an emotional wreck.

Simply put, I had a lot of repeats in 2019: it was not just the staged concert where that happened, but the US Tour as well.

So…..

Look at my 1st experience with the film- negative and not really becoming a fan of Les Mis. By being confused and not knowing how to feel or react. I did not even know from that I would eventually see it again. That very first time-no where close to being an emotional wreck. It was a 2nd chance- if that didn’t happen Les Mis wouldn’t be a part of my life and would have no idea The West End existed.

Then, by the time the 2019 Concert in cinemas happened, I already had a lot of experiences with Les Mis. At Central Piedmont Community College, West End, and the US Tour. Had seen the film so many times that I had to buy a 2nd copy and seen the 25th more than 20 (I think). So, from not really a fan to being obsessed with it was something I NEVER expected. I really believed I would not be a fan of tragedies, but Les Mis decided to prove me wrong. There are times when I feel like Les Mis was supposed to enter my life- even the timing worked.

The Two Most Meaningful Musicals

While I am a musical theatre fanatic, who has multiple meaningful musicals, there are only TWO that stand out from the rest. Both Wicked and Les Mis entered my life at separate times in my life. Wicked entered my life: August 2006, and Les Mis: March 2013. I was only in middle school when I saw Wicked and only my first year of college when Les Mis entered. In simple terms, I will try to say only certain things that made each musical meaningful (will try not to go too much in detail.

Wicked

Emotional connection- where I first discovered the importance. Strongly showed through Elphaba, Glinda, and Fiyero. Especially in the case of Elphaba.

Emotional and Complex side- discovered both the emotional and complex side. All because of Wicked, four core emotions existed: excitement, joy, love, and sad (would be helpful later on). In addition, was the first time discovering what it meant for both a character and plot to be complex

Who did I see with- 1st time was on Broadway with my mom August 2006—this was really special, think my 2nd time was in 2008, 3rd time was date with my dad US Tour 2013, and went with Gardner Webb with the US Tour 2016. Look, the really special thing about GWU is that I was watching a musical that changed me for good with a school that changed me for the better. Even seeing Wicked on Broadway was special: was my first time and date with mom.

What I knew about musicals (overall): spectacle/dance; fore core emotions- excitement/love/joy/sad; the importance of emotional connection, and the emotional and complex side to musicals—-or so I thought

Favorite Actors/Actresses

Mary Kate Morrissey- Elphaba

Amanda Jane Copper-Glinda

Ashley Parker Angel- Fiyero

Les Mis- this might take some time

Before moving on, I have to say I kinda say that I had to grow into it. So 2nd chance was when it all began (March 2013). I kinda have to describe the meaning through the various experiences I had with Les Mis.

overall meaning:

  • Learned to love Tragedy the hard way– when I still was at Fletcher, during high school, I had told myself I will NEVER love a tragedy. I thought I knew the genre, but Les Mis proved me wrong. Well, had to give that film a 2nd chance- still don’t know why, but most about had some connection the first time (something tells me it most likely belonged to Fantine and the students). Said that because coming in, I already knew “I Dreamed a Dream” was a Les Mis song and coming out of cinemas, had “Do You Hear the People Sing” stuck in my head. Well, that 2nd chance is when everything else is history- here is one thing I remember about that 2nd chance on the film—I started developing a strong love for Eponine—so Samantha Barks became my favorite Eponine (that has not changed no matter how close other actresses get: being first is part of why), and I don’t know exactly where that came from, but eventually I think it had something to do with Elphaba.
  • Emotional Nature– one new core emotion entered (Heartbreak). All because of that, I have a deeper and stronger understanding of emotions. Les Mis makes me an emotional wreck: that response never fails starting at “I Dreamed a Dream). Well, the emotional and powerful nature in Les Mis was something new to me- had no idea how intense musical emotions could be
  • Death– well, some things surprised me about this. I really thought deaths were unmemorable and in no way would happen during a song. Proven wrong by Les Mis due to “Come to Me”, “A Little Fall of Rain”, and “Finale”.

Conclusion

Here is what I am going end up- naming each year I saw it, and then saying who I know for a fact is my favorite for some characters.

  • Well did see Les Mis 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019: I think that says something about the meaning. 2015-date with mom in West End while 2017 went with Gardner Webb to Greenville during US Tour. 2019- another date with mom and some actors/actresses were same characters in 2017. Well, it is important to mention my 2019 Fantine-she was only in my ensemble 2017 and eventually secured the part of Fantine (she knew the role due to being understudy). 2019- got the same Javert, Cosette, Marius, Enjolras, and Madame Thenardier: standouts still Joshua and Matt. This could surprise UK fans, but while my strongest love triangle may be in my West End, but due to not comparing both 2015/2017- my favorite Marius is Joshua Grosso and Cosette is Jillian Butler.

Going to say here, who I know for a fact belong to my favorite actor/actress in the principal roles. Some, really have no idea. Some are literally that difficult- Valjean, Enjolras, and Fantine are the hardest ones to know who my favorite is. While Matt Shingledecker is a standout in the US Tour, Bradley, Ramin, and Aaron are literally basically tied with Matt. Here is what makes Fantine difficult- seven actresses. With Valjean, my top three are Nick, Adam, and Alfie- tough call.

  • Cosette- Jillian Butler
  • Marius-Joshua Grosso
  • Eponine-Samantha Barks
  • Javert- Jeremy Secomb
  • Thenardiers- Phil Daniels/Katy Secombe

What I know for a fact is that all of the actors/actresses I had seen combined have made the characters they are today.

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. He 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