Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Les Miserables in Manila!

The long wait is over! I have now seen Les Miserables!  I had seen my fair share of popular musicals before, but prior to this last weekend, Les Mis wasn't one of them. To say I was excited was a huge understatement, and the raves that many of my friends have been lavishing upon the show on social media further heightened my eager anticipation. Despite all that hype, the show actually significantly exceeded the very lofty expectations I already had. I don't think I have enough superlatives to heap upon this spectacular musical.

So why did I find Les Mis scintillating? First, I didn't realize that watching this live would move me as much as it did. I actually had goosebumps practically the entire time I was watching. The thing is, I am very familiar with this musical. I have the original London cast recording, a DVD of the 25th anniversary performance, and my high school groupmates and I even made a feeble and pathetic attempt to perform some of the songs from Les Mis for our English class project. (Don't ask. :)) Because of my extreme familiarity with Les Mis and its music, I thought that my experience would primarily be about listening to amazing voices and watching unparalleled talent perform on stage. Boy was I wrong. Hearing the songs performed live by people who were fully committed to their roles just gave life to the powerful emotions that each character was feeling. Even if I knew who would die and when, I still found all of the death scenes heart-rending. From Gavroche's demise to the fall of the people at the barricade (this scene was so well staged), watching each person passing away just left me with a lump in my throat. I previously didn't really feel a connection to "A little fall of rain" but seeing this performed by Eponine and Marius as she was dying in his arms completely changed my mind about this song and this scene.

Another thing I didn't expect as well was how elaborate the sets were. I probably got used to the set-up where the performers stand up for the most part and perform songs in place, which is how both the 10th anniversary and the 25th anniversary shows were staged. Seeing how many set changes there were, including a massive and intricately designed barricade, was just jaw-dropping. They also matched it with modern visual effects. One of the most notable scenes for its effects was Javert's suicide. I think everyone thought he would just act like he was jumping off a bridge into his death, but they had some pretty cool effects for this, making it look like he was really falling.

Also, I love that practically every song is a highlight. (I do think that Les Mis has the best collection of songs and the best music overall.) Do you hear the people sing, I dreamed a dream, On my own, Who am I, Empty chairs and empty tables, and One day more all got great applause from the crowd.

Then of course there are the conflicts. Amidst all the many characters going through misery, anguish, and pain, the storytelling primarily revolves around the two leads, Jean Valjean and Javert, and their conflict not only with each other but also internally within themselves. I also love how duality plays a part: Valjean's Soliloquy at the start and Javert's soliloquy towards the end have the same music and they both articulate some pretty life-changing internal conflicts that both characters have.

And finally, the talent. I love watching these musicals because they are a showcase of some of the best and most hardworking talents in the world. The entire cast was great, but my favorites were Simon Gleeson who played Valjean and Earl Carpenter who played Javert. Their solos were all superb and always got tremendous applause. And while both characters are locked in an eternal conflict (to quote Javert, "it is either Valjean or Javert"), you can't help but feel for both of them. Bring him home is an incredibly difficult song to sing (or rather, sing well), and Simon Gleeson sang it so effortlessly. It was a spiritual experience sitting there listening to him perform. (Oh and I was also very impressed that he actually lifted Paul Wilkins, who plays Marius, twice using a one-person lift then with a fireman's lift in the Dog eat dog scene at the sewers.) Check out Simon's performance of this song in Sydney (and honestly, as good as he sounds in this video, he was even better live):

video uploaded in youtube by StageWhispersTV

Needless to say, at the end of the performance, the cast and the production got a massive standing ovation from the crowd. Even just recalling my experience watching is giving me goosebumps. I was so blown away by the show that I immediately convinced many of my friends to watch. Because of my encouragement, five of them have now purchased tickets and a sixth is trying to get it sorted out. Les Miserables has been extended until May 1 (it won't be extended beyond then) and tickets are still available, especially in the last week. If you haven't seen it yet, I strongly suggest you do so. It is so worth it.

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