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On being les miserables at “Les Miserables”

By Melinda Mawdsley

I waited all year for this moment. I. Love. Musicals.

The Christmas Day release of “Les Miserables” is among the most anticipated movie releases of my lifetime. I’m not making that up. Ever since I saw a DVD recording of the 25th anniversary performance from 2010 at The O2 in London, I have been in love with this epic tale of life, death, war, peace and love.

(Samantha Barks, who plays Eponine in the movie, played the same role in the anniversary stage show. I strongly suggest you rent that DVD.)

Rachel and I couldn’t go on Christmas, so we went to the 1:15 p.m. matinee the day after. I wore glasses because a heavy dose of tears make my contacts fuzzy, and I expected a heavy dose of tears. I mean, tears were dripping off my chin from watching the short trailer.

There is a certain level of satisfaction from paying to see a movie and have the experience be everything you wanted for. And that’s what this movie was: an experience. It was grand. I couldn’t have loved it more.

 

By Rachel Sauer

True story about “Les Miserables”: When a traveling Broadway production of it came through West Palm Beach, Fla., several years ago, I went to see it with several friends. They all were familiar with the story, having seen it performed before, but I wasn't. And I'd been too daunted by Victor Hugo's tome, so I wandered into that theater with vague notions about singing French revolutionaries.

So, by the time Fantine was dying and singing that song with Jean Valjean, let us just say that I was absolutely inconsolable and a little unhinged.

Hesitantly handing me a tissue, my friend Don whispered, “Are you OK?”

“NO!” I tearfully gasped. “And neither is poor Fantine!”

Come the film, then, I was prepared with emotional armor. I would give this thing the ol' suspicious side-eye and think dismissive thoughts about musical theater. I would not be swayed or manipulated or in any way made to bawl the big, heaving flood that made me worry Melinda might think I was having a seizure.

But not to worry: She was doing the same.

What is it about this story? There are more subtle, more thoughtful tales about mercy and justice, forgiveness and human equality. And there are better musicals (I'm sorry, Melinda, but there are), especially as performed, in part, by actors rather than singers. But all of it together in one visceral, gritty, heartbreaking, redeeming story? One that includes that sad, sad, sad song about rain falling on flowers that Eponine sings as she dies?

I needed more Kleenex.

COMMENTS

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Couldn’t believe this got panned in the Out & About review. I respect the fact that the recordings were live with the action, instead of dubbed. When it’s so easy to make something perfect in a sound studio, that’s a brave choice. Must see myself.

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