Let me begin at the beginning. I was raised in theater. Not to say I was raised in a theater, but nearly so. My first recollections as an entertainer were of standing in front of a live audience and doing whatever tricks I could to get a laugh. I was a monkey without an organ. The peanuts were good. My family is generous that way. I think I was five…maybe six. Those are my earliest recollections.
We moved from the Midwest to California shortly after, not far from Hollywood; the entertainment capital of the world. My parents, avid fans of musicals, took my brother and me to see many live performances as children. As luck or fate would have it, the small town we lived in had a dinner theater. We were regularly treated to rounding choruses from Oklahoma, A Chorus Line, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Oliver! Ahh…yes, Oliver!
The crowning achievement of my theater viewing days came at the world famous Pantages Theater on Hollywood & Vine, where we saw Sandy Duncan perform in Peter Pan. Watching her fly across the stages was nothing less than magical. Each movement, sweeping. Each song, so grand.
There is something special about the theater.
My days of performing in front of a captured audience in the living room were numbered, and as luck or fate would intervene once more I was introduced to the world of musical theater again, this time as a member. Mickey Rooney’s Talent Town.
One thing you should know about me. I really can’t sing. Oh, I try. The acoustics in my shower are AMAZING. But needless to say, I couldn’t carry a tune if it had a handle.
But let’s face it, when I was a kid I was cute. It was really the only thing I had going for me. And when you have super-human, superpower cuteness like I had, they’ll pretty much let you be a part of anything. Well, I could dance too…so maybe that’s something.
My first role in the theater? Poor Street Urchin in the musical Oliver! I was hooked. The preparation, the thrill of standing on stage, the movement of the music, the choreography of the play. It is art and it is sport. The theater.
I must say, it’s been a while since I’ve felt that passion. The passion of the theater. We simply don’t take the time to go. Life, sometimes, gets in the way like that. But if I’m being honest, I’ve actually never felt the passion quite like I felt it this week.
My wife had seen the stage show, and a previous movie adaptation. My daughter had read the book, and seen the same previous movie adaptation. I have neither seen nor read anything about it, save for a few reviews for the new movie. I went in blind.
Actually, I did that on purpose. I wanted the experience to be new. Just like when I was a child and my parents would say they were taking us to the theater. The days when I had no idea what I was getting in to. Those incredible days sitting there, the house lights out, the music starts and so, too, the magic. The fulfilling magic…
From the first moment the current movie begins, it had me. I forgot I was in a full movie Cineplex near the house. I felt transformed, as if I was in Paris or London or New York.
I was crushed, defeated emotionally from the outset. I was invested in these characters. The characters. Their lives. No longer was I watching talented A-List Hollywood heavyweights give performances. Instead I was witnessing the plight of Jean Valjean, the ruthless pursuit by Javert, the generosity of the Bishop. The heartwrenching life of Fantine.
Never in my life have I witnessed a more powerful moment in any film than I did watching Anne Hathaway sing “I Dreamed a Dream”. Others may find fault in the movie or performances, but what’s the point? From the moment Hathaway begins singing we see a pain and suffering and vulnerability so real and so palpable that trivial matters of cinematic criticism seems petty at best.
Her story and much of the entire story of Les Misérables is as relevant today as it was when author and philosopher Victor Hugo penned the classic novel beginning in the 1830s. The story is one of suffering, of poverty and of politics. The tigers come at night…
I was utterly moved by the presentation. Immediately I was filled with memories of my youth and the days when theater was more a part of my life. I was moved by the performances and the abilities of others to transform my experience into a shared journey. I was compelled by the message. I was inspired and humbled.
Recalling all of my emotions once the film had ended, I realized I have been challenged artistically. Is it possible to create lives on paper that have an emotional impact and such relevance to the reader nearly 200 years later, as Hugo has done? Is the emotional impact derived from the music or from the message?
I have become emotionally scarred with the memory of love gained and love lost. My heart has been imprinted with names such as Jean Valjean, Cosette, Marius, Eponine and Fantine. I close my eyes and I hear…
I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine, untasted.
Her dreams have become my dreams.
Her life and her death have both filled me with life and left me with emptiness.
A void I seek to fill, but fear I may never succeed.
Though I may find solace…in the theater.