♪♫♪ Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me? / Somewhere beyond the barricade, is there a world you long to see?
When I was around eight years old, I visited Taiwan with my mom and my older brother, who was around ten. I distantly remember this one time when we were perusing through an enormous mall bookstore that was filled with both Chinese and English books, movies, and CDs. I eagerly pranced about finding my favorite Disney movies and the Harry Potter books in Chinese and entertained myself by trying to read their foreign titles aloud (always needing a little help with my mom of course). Then my mom picked up a DVD and I was puzzled, because I couldn’t seem to pronounce either the Chinese or the “English” name. To my embarrassment, my brother corrected my initial, pitiful guess.
“It’s not ‘less-miseraables,’ it’s pronounced lay miz-er-ahb…it’s French,” he explained.
My mom, who recognized the name as 悲惨世界, was very excited to find the DVD, which was a recording of the 25th anniversary performance of the musical. Like nearly all of the other DVDs in the store, the English was Chinese subtitled. She was very familiar with the Hugo story and loved songs from the musical as well, but none of us had seen the actual musical before. We bought the DVD (which I recall was a really good deal too!) and brought it all the way home to America, and we eventually watched the epic musical for the first time on our living room television.
Since I was in middle school, my mom and I have made our favorite bonding activity together into frequenting all kinds of musicals in Chicago. Throughout the years, we’ve collected several Playbills, including Wicked, West Side Story, Dirty Dancing, Mamma Mia, Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Phantom of the Opera three times (I think…I kind of lost count on that one!). And this not to say either of us are theater buffs or anything like that at all. I couldn’t tell you what upcoming Broadway shows are being anticipated this year, or what shows won Tony awards last week, or who the biggest stars-to-follow are…no, we are just casual theater-goers who love seeing a show with great actors and phenomenal music we know and love. Mainly, I just follow the Broadway in Chicago website and whenever a new show is coming that I recognize and think we would enjoy comes up, my mom and I buy tickets and plan our outing. We are also typically pretty frugal about buying our seats, often sitting way in the nosebleed sections — but it never matters how high up or far away from the stage we are. We always both have a fantastic time watching a fantastic performance. And now, after all these years without seeing one of our favorites, we can finally add Les Misérables to our long list of musicals!
Last week, my mom and I watched the Drury Lane production of Les Misérables in Oakbrook. A few weeks ago, we managed to buy tickets for the very last day of performances. We had never been to Drury Lane before to see a show and didn’t really know what to expect. It took us a little bit of searching on the winding roads to locate the theater, but we made it just in time. The theater is expectedly quite a bit smaller than the theaters in Chicago, but it was certainly no less beautiful inside with lovely chandeliers lining the inside ceiling and an elaborate set. The backdrop had computer-generated backgrounds that actually enhanced the experience. I wished that I could pull out my phone and snap pictures, but I knew indoor photography was strictly forbidden! As we walked down to find out seat, I was struck by how cozy the theater seemed because everyone seemed packed together without being too crowded. There were no balcony seating, just a main floor, and it looked like every single seat was sold out. In only a few minutes, the lights dimmed, cell phones were silenced around us, and the thunderous music began.
Despite buying our tickets a little bit late, we managed to get two fantastic seats! We were in the 5th row up from the front! I even got up before the show started to peer down into the live orchestra pit. It was my first time being so close to the stage and seeing everything so close; I also think that the acoustics and build of the theater helped as well. We were also lucky to find out that Ivan Rutherford, a seasoned Broadway actor, was playing the lead role of Jean Valjean! According to the Playbill, Rutherford has won multiple awards for that role and has performed as Valjean over 2000 times on Broadway. It was truly a treat being able to see him so close. However, my mom was even more enamored by Quentin Earl Darrington, the actor who played the antagonistic policeman Javert, because he had such a timbre, bellowing voice! It really made numbers like Stars and Javert’s Suicide especially thrilling to listen to. The Confrontation actually turned out to be my mom’s favorite part because of how intense the chemistry between Valjean and Javert was…truly electrical!
However, my favorite part, which has been my favorite from both watching the concert musical, the 2012 movie, and now this live production, still remains the scene with the students planning their revolution against the French monarchy! My favorite character has always been Enjolras, the leader of the students who incites them all to rally for justice, and it was so exciting to be able to watch that happen live. The set did a marvelous job of building too, especially with the student’s barricade made from miscellaneous tables, chairs, and barrels stuck together. My favorite song from the whole show is probably Do You Hear The People Sing and any variant of the melody, when all of the men of the rebellion sing together of their resolve to fight for the future. It’s such a motivating melody and always gets my blood pumping…actually, sometimes I even listen to the Broadway recording of it while I’m running or working out. And of course, the tragic story of Eponine and her unrequited love is always captured so beautifully by On My Own, and Christina Nieves really did her character some heartbreaking justice. Another crowd favorite was the adorable little boy Gavroche, whose brave contributions to the rebellion and witty quips of melody were always met with applause!
Whenever the cast sang together, it was equally thunderous and marvelous. The Act I closer One Day More got everyone excited, and when the lights came up for intermission, I couldn’t wait for the second half. The finale of the musical was also phenomenal, first with the spine-tingling, beautiful message from the Fantine-Eponine-Valjean melody (“and remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God!”) which ever so slowly crescendos into the reprise of Do You Hear The People Sing as the fallen men of the rebellion once again gather to sing in solidarity. The entire audience was moved to their feet by the last note and the standing ovation continued as the cast bowed over and over again.
As we exited, there was a huge crowd gathered around Ivan Rutherford, who was signing some autographs and selling CDs in the lobby. Although my mom and I avoided the long line, we did pick up some more information about upcoming shows in the theater. All around us people buzzed about how spectacular the show was. And so, my mom and I can now finally cross Les Misérables off our musical bucket list to watch, and I am so happy we did so by coming to the Drury Lane production. Even though we had no idea what to expect, we definitely hope to return here again to watch some more shows to come. It’s a shame we didn’t check out this theater many years earlier!
Do you hear the people sing, say do you hear the distant drums? / It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes! ♪♫♪
(Finale from Les Misérables - Claude-Michel Schönberg)