My Year with Les Mis, My Life with Les Mis

December has been a whirlwind, but a very Merry one! I can honestly say it was a good month, a good end to a very, very good year.

Old Fashioned Christmas Tree at Paris Bakery
A definite high point of the year was getting to go see one of my favorite books, Les Miserables, transformed into a raw, moving movie musical full of hope, on this the 150th year since its publication in 1862. 

It is interesting to me that I've come here in my life, to this point, this place, this home.  It isn't perfect, and I know I tend to view things with a little romance, but it is still very serendipitous.   

For example, I live thirty minutes from Hugo -- a little spot in Oklahoma across the Red River, named after Victor Hugo because he was the favorite author of the wife of an important army officer stationed there.  Now, Hugo is home to several circuses, which means that it is also home of the elephant graveyard, I kid you not.  (Go to the movie and read the book to see what particular importance an elephant statute has on the lives of one of the poor unfortunate sweet dear orphan boys named Gavroche.  Ok fine, I will tell you -- it is Napolean's brain child elephant statute that was never taken past its plaster, which becomes Gavroche's home in the book.  The movie shows this wondrous ill-fated thing -- The Elephant of the Bastille). (Go check out the link for more -- but come right back!)

Hugo's Elephant Graveyard

Victor Hugo

I first came to love Les Miserables in 1987 when I read the book.  I still vacillate between Les Miserables and War and Peace as my very favorite book; Hugo or Tolstoy as my favorite author  (depending upon which I book/author I've read or last encountered).

Leo Tolstoy


Anyway, I read the book before my boyfriend took me to the musical.   Now, it is a fact that I never can encounter Les Mis without getting a headache from crying, but I was truly a mess the first time I saw it.  I believe in grace and mercy, I try -- try - to give it, although I know I have failed many a time.  Les Miserables is a story of grace and mercy and failure; it is the story of life. Better, it is the story of living to hope for another day. The hero Jean Valjean lives it, breathes it, and gives us the hope to do so, over and  over, and over.  

Perhaps I believe in grace and mercy because I have needed them so many times in my life.  Perhaps it is because I recognize that I have failed to give them at times that I needed to.  If you are the same, then you know what I mean when I say that the Bishop and the candlesticks moment in Les Mis is a "sink to your knees" moment for me.   As soon as the Bishop sings his song on stage, I cry; and in my first musical theater experience of Les Mis I don't mean tears running down my cheeks crying, I mean crying, crying. Some people just need grace. Jean Valjean needed it; I need it.  I know many of you who need it (and a few of you who don't).  Grace and mercy.

Mercy, I'm afraid I was a little loud with my sobbing.  I remember thinking:  "These people are going to think that this guy sitting beside me was just REALLY MEAN TO ME!!"  Actually, they were probably just wanting to sock me to shut me up.  

But they were merciful, and allowed me to cry through the whole first act, so that I  had such a raging headache that I don't know how I managed to take in and love the show, but I did. I loved it all over again. Incidentally, my boyfriend stayed around and married me.  A little crying can't scare off a man such as he.

Our one year anniversary picture.  Yes, we purposely copied an old fashioned picture. 

Les Mis, since that time, has definitely been something that has been one of those core of our marriage things.  If all else fails, by God, we can pull out the soundtrack.  We can watch the 10th anniversary PBS production.  We can watch the 25th anniversary production.  Or, I might go out on the back porch, while hubby is stoking the fire, to find that he is listening to it with his earphones on and tears streaming down his face.  It truly is a powerful story, and I don't know of a better musical adaption of any story.  Take such story writing and combine it with some of the best musical writing ever, and you get something that will resonate through the generations.    If you want to know some of the backstory that leads up to the candlestick moment that makes it so powerful, read this link of mine (but come right back!):  Some Things You Need To Know About "Les Miserables" -- Valjean and the Bishop

So, we love Les Mis. And, it just so happens, we live in Paris, Texas, this lovely little community that truly lights up the West with its Art, and I mean Art with a capital A -- all encompassing Art: painting, acting, singing, writing, even stand up comedy. We got it, and I love it.  I'm proud to be a Parisian by choice, and live in this exciting atmosphere of a small city with big dreams. I live here, and I have traveled to Paris, France; the Paris that plays a big part in Les Miserables.  You may think this has no relation to us here in the second biggest Paris of the world, but trust me, if you ever say you are going to Paris (meaning here), you are likely to encounter someone in true raptures.  It is up to you to decide whether you explain or just basque in the glow. 

We thought we would never get to see Les Mis again, but then Susan Boyle came out with Fantine's song I Dreamed a Dream (that I have sung over, and over, and over, and over as if preparing it for an audition, -- what woman hasn't??).  The composers realized that the story wasn't finished (how could they have ever thought that?).

Dallas Winspear Opera House
Inside the Winspear
The revival began, and when we got the opportunity on December 31, 2011 to go see it at the still new Dallas Opera House -- the Winspear, we didn't hesitate.   I vowed not to cry, and failed at that vow, but it didn't matter because everyone cried.  I have never heard so many sobs and sniffles in live theater before. 

We also saw it there with some of my besties, you know who  your are.   It was the best musical theater viewing experience of my life.    Especially because we got to see it with those friends of ours, who are each going through their own hardships, their own Les Mis moments.

Pirate Queen Stephanie Block
And then we saw a celebration of it and other music by the composers at the American Airlines Center, (where I fell in love with the song "Woman" from Pirate Queen,  written by the same team, but that is another story)(And, lest you think we only experienced Les Mis, we had an interlude with Incredible Sondheim Summer, but that is also another story).  The composers made a surprise appearance at the event, that is how I know the back story as to the revival.  Thrilling!

Then, we saw the musical again, with many of the same performers at Bass Hall, in Fort Worth, with another set of friends.  Our teenagers loved it, but wondered when the madness would end.

Still,  when we asked them if they wanted to go see the musical movie with us on Christmas Day, they said:"Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!"  (Actually, they just said yes, but when you have teens and they agree to do anything with you, it feels like quite a victory).  While we LOVE the book, and LOVE the musical theater version, we also LOVED the raw edge that this movie musical gave us.  It was the ability to experience the story in another venue, to see more of the story, to be reminded of some things, like the fact that Marius really is the romantic hero of the second half of the story.  

(Side Note:  If you are into this story, Les Miserables,  you need to download this interactive book on the movie musical right now!)            Les Miserables Musical Phenomenon  

The point here is that we were some of the millions who saw it on Christmas Day, again with our good friends, (Love you!!).   

We stood in front of the theater for hours in the freezing rain (ok, it was more like 15 minutes) in order to fight the crowds for a good chair.  (Who am I kidding, this is Paris, there weren't crowds.  The reason we stood outside is because the theater wouldn't open and let us in, for some reason.  This might be the unromantic side of Paris, Texas, but we survived).

We went and watched, and got chills, and cried, and laughed, and applauded, and I got a headache, albeit a very satisfied headache.  Then we came out to a White Christmas.  And it was all very, very serendipitous. 

It has truly been a Les Mis year, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  There is always, always Hope, and may we strive to give more Grace, Mercy, and Love.  Love you guys.

Link to P.S. Les Mis, Paris Texas style 


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