Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Hearing the people sing

on October 2, 2012

It’s amazing that the musical (or “muscial phenomenon”, as it’s often described) Les Misérables has been around for so long – it will celebrate its 27th birthday on 8th October.  I think I was about 16 when I first became a fan of the music, when it had been running for 6 years or so.  I’d heard some of the songs before, and then we sang a Les Mis medley in our school chamber choir.  Not long afterwards, my sister Peacock picked up a very cheap recording of most of the songs on cassette and I remember that we subjected our parents to it many times in succession whilst on holiday that year, whilst we sang along in the back of the car.  Not having read the book or seen the show, we hadn’t much idea of the plot or the events portrayed, so not all of it made sense to us.  In addition, the recording we had at our disposal had been rendered all the more inexpensive by the singers’ doubling up on parts, which is usually fine, but makes the Confrontation scene,  between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert (but all sung by one person), utterly bewildering.  We had no idea why Valjean, who had seemed so kind to Fantine in her final moments, then appeared to address her with:

And this I swear to you tonight: there is no place for you to hide

before confusingly promising to take care of her daughter!

(For those of you unfamiliar with the lines, Valjean is in fact swearing to care for Fantine’s daughter, as Javert interjects between lines that Valjean has nowhere to hide, and that he’ll continue to seek him out).

Nonetheless we sang along with gusto, imagining little storylines around the lyrics we could understand.

It wasn’t until two years later, after I’d left for university (accompanied by a second copy of the same cassette), that we finally got to see the show itself.  For Peacock’s 17th birthday I decided to surprise her with a trip to London and matinée tickets at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.  The day was part-adventure, part-disaster – we travelled by train and tube, then arrived at Tottenham Court Road station and proceeded to walk an extremely long way in the wrong direction before realising our mistake, but somehow still managed to get back to the theatre in time, at the expense of our lunch!  We had balcony seats (in my inexperience, I didn’t realise where the balcony of a theatre was, and thought I had a booked a box at a very reasonable price indeed!) but this didn’t spoil the experience one bit as we sat enthralled, looking down on the actors and fitting the events which unfolded in front of us to the familiar words of the songs.

Later, after I was married, I was able to see the show again from a better position in the stalls, when Southern Daddy and I visited a friend who lived nearby and managed to get some returns one evening, and enjoyed myself just as thoroughly.  I’ve also read the book.   Peacock has acquired a reputation as number 1 Les Mis fan in the family and amassed innumerable pieces of  memorabilia, including mugs, CDs (better quality recordings than that original cassette!) and the DVDs of the 10th and 25th anniversary concert performances.  Those concerts feature casts made up of favourites from the different productions around the world, and it amuses me that the same actress plays Madame Thénardier in both.  If you’re familiar with the characters I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a strange sort of accolade, to be considered the best Madame Thénardier in the world over a 15 year period!

I’m now waiting for my daughters to be old enough to see it, so we have an excuse to go again (they have already seen The Codex Production’s excellent LEGO version on YouTube, which so far has covered about one-third of the whole musical!).  In the meantime, I’m very excited (along with many other Les Mis lovers) that the long-awaited film version, first talked of by Cameron Mackintosh in 1988, is shortly to be released.  I say “shortly”, although there’s not so short a time left as was originally promised.  The latest release dates announced are 25th December for USA and 11th January for UK (click International Release Dates at the bottom of the website homepage to find the release date for where you are).  Originally, however, the release was planned for 7th December – I know this because it’s my birthday, and having found out in about April that this was the case I arranged the whole weekend carefully, booking a babysitter, etc, so that I’d be able to see it on its first night.  The way I heard it was that the People In Charge decided that they wanted to do battle for ratings with The Hobbit (also originally announced for 7th December – not sure what’s become so wrong with that date, I’ve always kind of liked it) and so pushed back the release date a week to 14th December.  They then decided that perhaps they weren’t guaranteed to come off well in that fight, so picked 25th December for the US to go up against Quentin Tarantino’s latest film instead (with which they’re probably less likely to share a potential audience).  Why the dates have to be so radically different around the rest of the world I’m not sure, as I thought we were all about world-wide release to avoid piracy etc nowadays.

Anyway, what’s special about this film, as you’ll see if you watch the short film on the website, is that the actors have been recorded singing as they act, rather than filmed lip-syncing to tracks they have pre-recorded in a studio weeks before.  This has never been tried before, and I’m excited to see how different the results will be from other musical films and how similar to the live show.  UPDATE: You can read my review of the film here.

I’ll finish with a video which never fails to bring a smile to my face.  It’s a flash-mob of One Day More, performed by the cast of the Polish production to advertise their show and recently released album.  It’s in Polish, but the passion and feeling they bring to the performance transcends the language barrier (and if you know the show, you’ll know exactly what they’re singing anyway!)

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Header photo downloaded from Les Misérables Facebook Page

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