Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


General Elisson
 Inspector Javert Prevert, relentless pursuer of Jean Valjean.

A couple of weeks ago, the Missus and I took a little trip down memory lane by way of early nineteenth-century Paris. Les Miserables, now celebrating its twenty-fifth year, was showing at the fabulous Fox Theatre in midtown Atlanta.

By now, everyone should be somewhat familiar with Les Miserables, at the very least thanks to the musical theatre version, if not the numerous films or the original Victor Hugo novel.  It’s the story of one of literature’s most remarkable schlimazels, Jean Valjean, who serves twenty years at hard labor in prison for having stolen a crust of bread.  (Schmuck.)  His nemesis, one Inspector Javert, is no big believer in rehabilitation and so pursues Valjean relentlessly for having broken parole.  You could call it a “Reformed Ex-Con versus Overzealous Cop” story, but then you have a whole other plot involving Fantine, one of Valjean’s employees; her illegitimate daughter Cosette, the product of a youthful indiscretion; a couple of scheming, thieving innkeepers, a passel of idealistic student troublemakers (“Occupy Paris”) and... well, go see the show.  Or you could go read the book, if you have a calendar quarter to spare. 

Back when Elder Daughter was a mere sprat, we listened to the original Broadway cast recording - and the original French concept album - waaaaay too often. The story, after all, was compelling and the tunes, by musical theatre standards, were reasonably catchy - unusual for a show that has virtually no spoken parts. It’s more of an opera than a standard Broadway musical... and we would all sing along as we made our frequent drives between our home in Connecticut and Eli’s place on Long Island.  I suspect that a goodly portion of Elder Daughter’s love for acting and theatre was instilled in her by those car trip singalongs.

When Elder Daughter turned ten, we celebrated by taking her to New York to see Les Mis on Broadway.  It was, of course, as much a present for us as for her.  The show itself was wonderful, an epic story told through music and stagecraft.  OK, the tale does get a bit mawkish and soap-operatic at times, but nevertheless, it pushes all the right buttons at the right times.  We loved it... but never went back to see it again.

Until now.

The show is now a quarter-century old, but it has kept its freshness by means of innovation.  There seem to be a few new bits of song spliced in here and there, for one.  For another, the restaging at the Fox dispenses with the turntable (so innovative when it first appeared in 1987), replacing it with a state-of-the-art rear projection screen.  You really feel, at times, that you are marching along the boulevards of Paris... or shambling through the city’s sewers.  Thank Gawd the producers decided not to go the 4-D route and schpritz the audience with shit-mist for the sake of authenticity.

Of course, thanks to a childhood heavily influenced by Mad magazine,  I can never enjoy a musical of any sort without wanting to dick around with the lyrics.  My children have been completely ruined as a result.  Here, by way of example, is one version my kids learned:

How do y’do - my name’s Gavroche
I like to hear the toilet flush

Then there was this magnum opus, inspired by an actual chipmunk and his nocturnal excavations next to our house:

Will you join in our parade
Clean up the mess the chipmunk made
He has been digging in the dirt outside the mudroom in the night
He has dug a little pit
He puts his acorns into it
That way he’s sure that he won’t starve when the winter comes

Oh, he’s dug a little hole outside the mudroom in the night
If you try to give him acorns
Will he scratch or will he bite
You know that a chipmunk does not know what’s wrong from what’s right

Will you join in our crusade
Clean up the mess the chipmunk made
He has been digging in the dirt outside the mudroom in the night
He has dug a little pit
He puts his acorns into it
That way he’s sure that he won’t starve when the winter comes

Sing it yourself! You know you want to.


Yabu said...

The Fox is way to cool. I've seen many productions there, but the hands down best was Lynyrd Skynyrd. They turned it inside out.

K-nine said...

A chipmunk no less.
Thanks, you have now also completely ruined me.

JC said...

The word you're looking for (virtually no spoken parts) IS "ORATOTIO".

Elisson said...

@K-nine - As you can see, the chipmunk and I have been acquaintances for a long, long time. Coincidence? Perhaps...

Elisson said...

@JC - I think you mean "oratorio."

Les Misérables is more of an opera, not an oratorio - the former is musical theatre, while the latter is more in the style of a concert piece, typically with a religious motif.

Les Mis is distinct from most Broadway fare in that there's not a lot of spoken material to advance the plot between musical numbers - it's pretty much all sung dialogue. Sondheim's Sweeney Todd also falls into this category.

Thanks for stopping by!