Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Show & Tell: Les Miserables is an Emotional Masterpiece

I’ve seen many musicals over the past twenty years, and I must say that last night’s opening performance of Les Miserables at the Fox Cities P.A.C was among my favorites. Having never seen the show before and, admittedly, not knowing much beyond the basic storyline, what I experienced was nothing short of spectacular.

Upon entering the theater, my husband and I were both impressed by the elaborate and beautiful set. The scenery was stunning. Because this is the 25th anniversary of the show, the producers have reworked much of the scenery and added special effects like none I’ve seen before. The projected backdrops added color, motion and depth to the stage making it easy to forget you were watching a live performance. The special effects and lighting added to the mood and feel of the performance perfectly. One high point for me was the battle scene at the barricade where the sounds and flashes of gun fire made me jump in my seat and duck for cover. As awesome as the set and effects for the performance were, the talent of the cast was equally impressive.

Fear, misery, despair, sacrifice, greed, betrayal, passion, joy, and love are only a handful of the emotions executed perfectly by the cast throughout the two-and-a-half hour performance. The story of Les Miserables is an emotional whirlwind that begins with ex-con Jean Valjean serving time on the chain gang. After his release Valjean is bitter with society and returns to a life of crime. When he is about to be arrested again, a bishop lies to a police officer, Javert, to save him. Astonished, Valjean swears to turn his life around for the better. Throughout the next ten years, Valjean repays the acts of kindness shown to him including sparing the life of Javert after he has been exposed as a spy.

Emotions grow stronger as the story grows darker. When a revolution breaks out the audience is bombarded with rage, upheaval, despair, longing, and worry. But underneath it all there is a thread of love. As the revolution mounts and Valjean realizes that his daughter is in love with Marius, who is fighting at the barricade, Valjean prays to God to keep Marius safe. The prayer scene is arguably one of the best of the entire show. The pure emotion and power behind the music brought tears to my eyes.

The love between Marius and Cossette culminates in their marriage. At the wedding, Marius learns the truth about Valjean and how he rescued him from the revolution and from death. Marius and Cossette go immediately to Valjean where she learns the truth about her life before Valjean passes away. My absolute favorite part about the ending of the play was that Valjean was allowed to die with forgiveness, honor and dignity – something he could not achieve years earlier. 

At its heart, I found Les Miserables to be an uplifting story about the survival of the spirit and the power of forgiveness. It is a testament to the power that one person has to change when given the opportunity to do so.

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