When I was younger I took voice lessons. I read Les Miserables in the same year that I began my voice instruction, and upon hearing the original cast recording, was blown away by the power in the music. I begged my instructor, “Please, I want to sing ‘Castle on a Cloud’ I want to sing Cosette.” Unfortunately I am and was an alto, and did not have the range for the song. As I’ve grown older, I still long to sing to Cosette, and often sing along in my own range, but I have come to see the beauty in Fantine’s music.
The story of Les Miserables is one of war and the French Revolution, which was inspired by our own. The people were starving, and men were being arrested for feeding their families the only way they knew how. The show opens with a powerful song
Look down, look down
Don’t look ’em in the eye
Look down, look down,
You’re here until you die
The sun is strong
It’s hot as hell below
Look down, look down,
There’s twenty years to go
I’ve done no wrong!
Sweet Jesus, hear my prayer!
Look down look down,
Sweet Jesus doesn’t care
After all who has shown they care for these men, these misfits of society. The “look down” theme, the theme of shame and fear is replayed, and displayed in other parts of this beauteous passion. We meet Jean valJean, and we learn his crime. He has stolen a loaf of bread to feed his dying nephew. He is released on parole, but having done what he must to live he cannot make a decent wage, he is paid less than men without the brand. His prisoner’s number is given as 24601. We also meet Javert, the Jailer. Javert has no compassion. He feels, having pulled himself up from the gutter then others should have done it too, if they longed to be out. What Javert refuses to understand is that many of the men he holds in prison are there for their instinct to survive. Jean valJean is taken in and fed by a bishop who is doing the kind thing, ( not a thing many who call themselves Christian today would bother to do). Jean valJean steals the silver in the night and when he is caught claims the flatware a gift from the bishop. Unbelieving, soldiers bring Jean valJean back to the monastery where the bishop confirms his story and adds to his take two solid silver candlesticks. The Bishop tells Jean valJean:
But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!
And so Jean valJean begins a new life as a factory owner.
A young women work in the factory of valJean who has become the Mayor of the town. One young woman stands out. She is the only one who resists the foreman’s advances. We find that Fantine has a child who is living with an innkeeper and his wife, she believes well cared for. Fantine is fired for being a single mother. Fantine sells her beautiful hair and becomes a whore. She has consumption and is dying of it. One night in the street Jean valJean comes across her recognizes her, and is made to realize what he has, by proxy done. That night as Fantine lays dying of a form of tuberculosis, Javert catches up with Jean valJean for the first time. The Jean valJean begs his jailor for 3 days to get the child and set her up. Javert relents and as valJean promises Fantine that Cosette will want for nothing, Javert promises valJean that he will always be after him.
Now we finally meet Cosette. She sings a song that just to mention its name is to know it is Les Mis. Castle on a Cloud.
There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
There is a room that’s full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls,
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
It is haunting and never fails to tear me up, sending chills down my spine at the same time. ValJean pays the debt and takes Cosette, running from Javert, raising the girl as his own as he promised her mother.
And the Revolution comes to a simmer ten years pass. The Revolution in boiling, bubbling just under the surface. Just waiting for the other shoe to drop… And a group of wealthy young men act as a catalyst. They sing:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free!
Everyone is looking for tomorrow, willing to fight, and to die if necessary for their freedom. For the freedom of their brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, little Cosette has grown into a beautiful young lady, and by chance meets Marius, played in this production by Nick Jonas. In an almost Romeo and Juliette moment, the two fall in love at first sight. Marius has his friend Epinine show him the way to the home where Cosette lives. Together they sing. Marius goes to fight with his brothers at the barricade, and Cosette prepares to run because Javert has again found Jean valJean.
Epinine follows Marius and he bids her to deliver a letter to his love. Epinine is heartbroken because she has loved Marius for ages, only to have him stolen away from her by the girl that she tormented as a child. As Epinine goes to deliver the letter she sings:
And now I’m all alone again,
Nowhere to go, no one to turn to.
Did not want your money sir,
Came out here cuz I was told to.
And now the night is near,
Now I can make believe he’s here.
Sometimes I walk alone at night
When everybody else is sleeping.
I think of him, and then I’m happy
With the company I’m keeping.
The city goes to bed,
And I can live inside my head.
On my own,
Pretending he’s beside me.
I walk with him till morning.
I feel his arms around me,
And when I lose my way I close my eyes
And he has found me.
The letter is delivered to valJean and Epinine, having nowhere else to go as she has alienated her family, she fights her way back to the barricade. When valJean reads the letter and realizes the child that he has raised that he loves is herself in love. He resolves to do what he can to make sure that Cosette’s dream comes true and that the young man he has not met comes home alive. ValJean resolves to bring him home safely
ValJean penetrates the barricade in an Army uniform and convinces the men there that he will fight on their side, he brings news, and finds Javert. ValJean’s information allows the patriots to repel the soldiers and live to fight another day. Having curried favor, valJean asks to be allowed to “take care” of Javert. The patriots take it to mean that he will kill the spy.
Do what you have to do,
The man belongs to you.
The enemy may be regrouping. Hold yourself in readiness.
Come my friends, back to your positions.
The night is falling fast.
We meet again.
You’ve hungered for this all your life;
Take your revenge!
How right you should kill with a knife!
(Valjean cuts the ropes which bind Javert.)
You talk too much,
Your life is safe in my hands.
Get out of here.
Valjean, take care!
I’m warning you…
Clear out of here.
Once a thief, forever a thief
What you want you always steal!
You would trade your life for mine.
Yes, Valjean, you want a deal!
Shoot me now for all I care!
If you let me go, beware,
You’ll still answer to Javert!
You are wrong, and always have been wrong.
I’m a man, no worse than any man.
You are free, and there are no conditions,
No bargains or petitions.
There’s nothing that I blame you for
You’ve done your duty, nothing more.
If I come out of this alive, you’ll find me
At number fifty-five Rue Plumet
No doubt our paths will cross again.
And on the story goes. This recording is filled with some of the most beautiful singing I have ever heard, and keep in mind every week the wonderful Cantor Giora Sharon sings in my shul. The cast includes the aforementioned Nick Jonas (that boy really needs braces!) as Marius, the inimitable Alfie Boe as Jean valJean, Lea Salonga known for being the singing voice of Disney’s Mulan and Princess Jasmine is incomparable as Fantine, and surprise of all is Matt Lucas (better known for his comedy show Little Britain done with friend David Williams, and his double role as the Tweedle Twins in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) is singing with a fantastic voice the role of Thenadier. The encore encludes a salute to the 25 years that this show has been in production and brings back four different valJeans to sing.
The performance of this peace is one that even now brings tears to my eyes, and thoughts of America to my mind. We as Americans are no longer willing to fight we have become complacent. It’s like we have lost the will to fight and to make sure that America is the country that is was for generations, the country where everyone wants to live. Too long we have been a country at war, for nearly three solid decades, and we have forgotten how to prosper, how to make things, to get our hands dirty. Now it is illegal to have a vegetable garden without permission of the state. Some of you are saying why do we need gardens, we can get organic at the supermarket, and that is exactly why our states are regulating who grows their own produce. Instead of the Bourgoise we have banks forclosing on people who are just trying to be able to eat this month and politicians who have never been able to balance a check book. Let’s take a lesson from Victor Hugo, and the overall world he has depicted. Lets do what we must to turn around, bring our men and women home alive and go back to being a country who made things and was largly self sufficient.
Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.
There are American children right here at home who live on the streets starving because everything that we have is worth nothing. Lets save our children and our country. If you agree with me, tweet, or post as your status on Facebook, the prisoner number of Jean valJean who served 19 years as a slave to law and order for doing his best to feed his family. Which is more illegal, stealing just to eat, or being the criminal who takes the food from the mouths of children? Please take a moment and immerse yourselves and your children in this world. We no longer teach Les Miserables in schools but should. Let your children see, that not all criminals are bad, and not all those who wear a badge can be trusted.
May the memory of Jean valJean never die 24601!!!!!
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