Before the show,
These tickets are miracle tickets.
My brother really wanted to go see Les Mis, but I messed up and didn't buy early enough, so they were all sold out at the beginning of January. I went to the NAC on Thursday to see if I could somehow get my hands on tickets for the both of us by way of cancellation or something, and magically, unbelievably, wondrously, there they were: two tickets to the Saturday matinee of Les Mis. I still can't believe it! And I think they're actually on the floor in the back, which may make this the closest I've ever sat to the stage for a show this big. Miracle tickets!!! I was literally jumping around and I couldn't stop smiling about my luck for the next hour.
I saw Les Mis as part of a school trip when it toured in Toronto, back in 2013, and I remember being so impressed with the set design. The two biggest things I remember being impressed with were the barricade and the "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" scene. The barricade was impressive because it was so huge and detailed, with its carefully stacked furniture, and yet it was there in one scene and gone the next! The "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" scene was probably impressive to me because I was comparing it to the movie version, and it's so much more powerful to watch Marius sing all alone on a dark stage as the Amis de l'ABC walk in with a candle and the leave him than it is to watch Eddie Redmayne sit in a pub with literal empty chairs and empty tables. The scene was that much more symbolic live and it left an impression, so whenever I think about my experience with Les Mis live, I think of that. That, and the fact that I didn't buy a souvenir shirt, so rest assured I'm rectifying that mistake.
I'm looking forward to seeing this show again because I think I'll be able to appreciate it so much more of it now. I wasn't that into theatre and Broadway back in 2013, but now I love it a lot, and I know I'll be able to appreciate the smaller details because of the countless hours I've spent watching Broadway behind-the-scenes videos, and because of the Intro to Backstage Theatre course that I took last semester. I'm also looking forward to it because I get to watch it with my brother, who is seeing it live for the first time, and I know he'll already be raving about it during intermission. The only thing better than experiencing something great for the first time is seeing people you love experience the same great thing for their first time and being there for the excitement you know will come.
The last thing I'm looking forward to is that I get to renew my own experience with watching this show live. The first time I watched it, it was with a bunch of other high schoolers around me, and I was unfortunate enough to end up sitting a person away from someone who loved the Les Mis soundtrack and decided it was okay to just sing along to all of it while the show was going on. Not cool. I know for a fact my brother will not sing along and we're in aisle seats, so here's hoping I don't have to listen to someone else join in while Enjolras and Marius are singing about the blood of angry men.
The word "stoked" does not even begin to describe how I feel about going to see this show, but it will have to do—I am STOKED to be seeing this show again!!!
After the show.
I'm not quite sure where to start with Les Misérables because I could probably talk for hours about it. I guess the most immediate thing I can think of is that the first part of the show is such a whirlwind! There isn't much room for breathing space. Yes, every song is spectacular, but there is no downtime before intermission—you're in jail with Valjean, then you're in a church with a bishop, then you're in the factory with Fantine, then you're in a hospital as Valjean and Javert sing-fight, then you're in the Thénardiers' hotel, then it's like ten years later and you're in the streets with some revolutionary young men, then you're singing in some different streets about love, then suddenly you're ready to build a barricade and oh would you look at that it's intermission. It's actually quite incredible that a cast this large can keep up with the pace, and that the guy who plays Valjean doesn't get tired every night (especially on two-show days!).
Speaking of Jean Valjean, I found he was very well-cast. The actors who played Valjean, Cosette, and Marius did an amazing job. Their vocals were boundless, and I was especially impressed with Marius' and Cosette's performances—probably because in the past, I paid more attention to the roles of Enjolras and Éponine, and only ever noticed the performances of the former two if I found them somewhat lacking. I enjoyed how warm both of their performances came off, and how innocent and in-love they were in the midst of all the revolutionary action. I tend to find Marius and Cosette a little bit tedious because they become so wholly infatuated with each other so fast it seems stupid and cheesy, but in this production, it just felt like getting caught up in young love and it was a pleasure to watch.
With Valjean—with any Valjean, really—I was impressed with the strength of his vocals. I was also sitting close enough (I have never been that close to a touring Broadway show in my life) to see that he was indeed quite young, but it just made me pay attention to the costumes more. You can't tell as much from afar, but up close I could see that he and Javert started wearing grey wigs as time went on in the story. It's something that wouldn't really occur to me to do, but it's a nice touch.
A short note about costumes: I only noticed because we'd looked at the Les Mis costumes in class at one point, but Fantine wasn't wearing pink. She looked just like the rest of the workers, although her hair stood out and maybe her shirt was a slightly brighter blue compared to the rest of the women (I didn't pay enough attention to be absolutely sure). I always wonder about how much is changed when reviving a play or bringing it on tour, but I guess if they do, costume designs can be subject to change as well. I did find that some of the costumes looked a little too modern. Some of the Amis looked like they were wearing jeans.
The use of projections was really great! They're mostly subtle things you don't notice as anything more than background, but they add so much to the scene in terms of setting a location and making it seem more realistic. Especially when Valjean is bringing Marius through the sewers. He walks on the spot but the projections move and it's almost like a movie. Although the projections play a literal background role in the play, it becomes a main character in the sewers. In this way, Les Mis was a quite good first introduction to the use of video and projections in theatre for me, back when I first watched it.
Aside from the projections, something to note is the lights! There's a lot of backlighting, incredibly bright beams of light, and off-stage bright sources of light to recreate daylight or create a feeling of intense drama (especially with all the backlighting at the barricade). Les Mis is full of drama and flair from the lyrics and the music to the acting, but I find the most evidence of its drama in the lighting. Even the scene changes are full of grandeur. Some notable dramatic scene changes: the set pieces flying apart during Javert's suicide, the barricade splitting right in half to reveal the next part, the really quick set change to a courtroom so Valjean can confess he is the real 24601, and the way Enjolras marches this way and that on the stage with a flag and a whole bunch of people following him as he sings "Do you hear the people sing?". A production's ability to choreograph that many people in a cohesive manner on a stage will never cease to amaze me.
Watching it, I started contemplating what it must be like to take up the mantle of putting on Les Mis while still being creative and making it your own. It's the 20th anniversary of the show and it's likely that many, many people who come to see this company's touring show will know every song, have their favourite characters, and have previous experiences with seeing the show (and even watching the movie). The pressure must be unbelievable, but I guess the company's love for the show must make it as wonderful as it is.
It also made me think about what it really means to put on a spectacle. What makes something a grand spectacle? Is it the performances, or the sheer scale of everything involved, or the fact that thousands of people want to go see it? With Les Mis as an example, but also with the other shows I've gone to see in my lifetime, I want to say that what makes something a spectacle is the love and work that goes into the event, no matter the performance, scale, or size of the audience. There would still need to be some sort of audience, however, because I don't think it's a spectacle if no one is there to witness it.
By the way, the "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" scene exceeded expectations. The candles were there, and the Amis, and of course Marius himself on a dark stage, but the part where they all raise the candles like they're glasses before blowing the candles out escaped my memory from when I watched it last, and thinking about it now still makes me feel giddy and sends shivers down my spine. There is nothing better to me than when a story successfully echoes earlier symbolism in a poignant and effective manner, and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is like the epitome of that happening. It just heightens emotions to be reminded of something from earlier in the story, and to see them raise the candles symbolizing their lives the same way they raised their drinks at the barricade hurts. It hurts to be reminded of their brotherhood in the face of the fact that the only brother left alive is Marius. It's still my favourite scene.
Les Mis is such a great production, and never fails to leave me with a feeling of hope despite all the death, heartache, and misery the characters go through. Listening to the soundtrack makes me feel uppity and ready to revolt, to work towards a brighter future, and I think we all need a little bit of that determination in us.
Hello! My name is Reine Tejares, and this is my blog for THE 2100: The Theatrical Event at the University of Ottawa.