I am an unabashed Les Miserables snob.
I was first exposed to the musical around 1989 when my sister dropped a tape cassette in my lap a few days after attending a Chicago production. I immediately popped it into my Sears boom box and gave it a whirl while rolling my favorite Cavaricci pants.
It was love at first listen. I instantly grabbed my IOU sweatshirt and rode my Schwinn 10-speed bike to the local library to check out the complete Victor Hugo work. Imagine my disappointment when I flipped to Page One and remembered I didn’t speak a lick of French. Sacre bleu!
Since then, I have seen Les Miserables on Broadway and in dozens of traveling tours across Chicago, Milwaukee and Champaign. I was giddy over the 10th anniversary special. I wept at the 25th anniversary concert. When they brought out all those past Valjeans, Javerts and Eponines? It was divine.
For the record, there will never be a better Jean Valjean than Colm Wilkinson. The man can sing the phone book and I’d still be moved.
After having glanced over the early reviews for the new movie, I was somewhat hesitant. For me, Les Miserables demands powerful voices. While Hugh Jackman certainly held his own on Broadway in “The Boy from Oz,” his voice is absent a certain strength and character that, for me, defines Jean Valjean.
Yet the scathing reviews for poor Russell Crowe were pretty much universal:
“Stick to gladiator flicks, bro.”
“Fire your agent.”
“Please don’t sing again, Mr. Crowe. Like ever. “
I knew in order to retain my #1 Fan Card, I had to do this. I had to see the movie. So I stuffed my minivan full of some favorite neighborhood moms and we headed out.
What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the response from a bunch of Les Miserables newbies:
ATHEIST FRIEND: Crap. This is like going to church.
SARCASTIC FRIEND: Are they going to be singing the ENTIRE TIME?
ATHIEST FRIEND: Yes. About God apparently. You could’ve warned me, Marianne.
MARIANNE: Shhhhh. This is the good part.
MINIATURE FRIEND: What IDIOT told Russell Crowe that he could sing?
ATHEIST FRIEND: I think God did.
MARIANNE: Quiet. That’s Colm Wilkinson playing the priest. He’s the original Jean Valjean.
NICE FRIEND: Who’s Jean Valjean?
MARIANNE: Hugh Jackman.
SARCASTIC FRIEND: THAT is Hugh Jackman? He looks like sh*t.
MINIATURE FRIEND: Actually, he looks younger and younger every time they show him on screen.
SARCASTIC FRIEND: So Jean Valjean is Benjamin Button?
NICE FRIEND: Ooooh. Is Brad Pitt in this movie??
ATHEIST FRIEND: Probably playing God.
MARIANNE: Shhh. Look, Fantine is about to sing her big number.
ATHEIST FRIEND: Great, more Jesus tunes.
SARCASTIC FRIEND: Isn’t this the song Susan Boyle sang on YouTube?
MINIATURE FRIEND: Who’s Susan Boyle?
NICE FRIEND: What’s YouTube?
Given that I could pretty much recite the entire show from memory, I started having more fun listening to the commentary of my minivan moms than the movie. When one of them cried out, “For Pete’s sake, Russell, just jump off the damn bridge and put us ALL out of our misery,” I nearly lost it.
My big evening out was quickly renamed.
“Les Miserables: The Comedy.”
Starring my minivan moms.
Because to laugh with another person is to see the face of God.
Unless of course you’re Atheist Friend.