As the summer winds down, I have had the chance to see the fruits of my younger daughter's labor. In her drama camp this summer, she worked with co-campers to put on a musical production -- Les Mis. The Black Box camp here in Teaneck is a fabulous resource for kids and adults. They put on incredible shows with lights, music, and a sense of professionalism which impresses. They have put on a wide variety of shows, from classics like 1776 to original pieces written by local playwrights. So, super to them and all that.
I have gone through my life with a few hard and fast rules. One is that with the exception of The Blues Brothers, The Muppet Movie and Singing in the Rain, I avoid musicals. I have made exceptions for The Music Man and that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I enjoy the musical numbers sprinkled into The Simpsons and Family Guy, but that's about it. And I also avoid huge French novels about the underclass. That's also a thing. So up till now, I have had little experience with Les Mis. My knowledge of the story has come from a single scene which I saw from the recent movie and the cultural bits which everyone is supposed to know (a guy named John, Val, John, and a cop who chases after him because he owes him some bread or something). So now that I have seen the teen production twice, I feel like an expert and I would like to share what I have learned.
[Kids, if you stumbled on this looking for an erudite and expansive plot synopsis of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo because you don't want to read the whole thing and this site came up higher on Google than, say, Wikipedia, then you came to the right place. Begin writing your paper........NOW!]
1. It works a lot better if you have already seen it. If this is your first time seeing Les Mis, don't. See it the second time first so the first time, you will understand it. I'm not sure of the mechanism which will allow that, but I'm just the advice guy.
2. There are lots of little characters. Don't worry about learning their names. They all die. And there are no small parts. Just small parts covered in a lot of fake blood.
3. Don't be surprised that there is no dialogue. How could there be? These guys didn't speak English.
4. There are only 4 songs in the show. They just repeat. They are catchy songs and reminded me of such musical themes as "Let it Grow" by Clapton and the Oompa-Loompa song. Among others.
5. Life lesson -- if you decide to break your parole by running away and reinventing yourself, run away. Don't hang around and hope no one recognizes you.
6. Cops are mean and untrustworthy and hate you even after you are let out of jail having supposedly paid for your crime, but don't worry. Eventually they feel bad if you are nice enough to them and they end up living happily every after.
7. Coincidences abound in war time. If you just hang around a city of millions long enough, you meet the same people over and over again.
8. Kids shoot the darndest things.
9. If you are pining away for the boy of your dreams, just be his best friend while he courts another. That usually works out fine. And the best time to pursue a love affair? During turbulent times. We all need that anchor of a solid relationship to keep us grounded when all around us is covered in fake blood.
10. The story is timeless but somehow they attached "three+ hours" to it.
11. Never pass up an opportunity to carry a wounded person through the sewers. If you haven't done that, you haven't earned any street cred.
I honestly enjoyed myself (more during the second show because I had an inkling of what was going on) and I look forward to tonight's show because I believe there is more to learn (I have to cement my theory that death is actually a series of duets).