I got 'em last October when I first saw "Les Miserables" in San Francisco.And they were there again Tuesday night when the curtain came down on the third national company's 1,000th performance, which just happened to coincide with the opening night of a 16-performance run at the Capitol Theatre.
OK, I do have a confession to make. Technically, the 1,000th performance was really the company's last show in Spokane - although originally it had been determined that the first Salt Lake performance would get the honor. What happened was, in the meantime, there was an extra benefit performance in Seattle, which changed the numbers.
So opening night at the Capitol Theatre was really celebrating the beginning of the company's NEXT 1,000 performances.
Regardless of the statistics (and this is a show that lends itself to all kinds of incredible stats - from collecting awards to record-breaking ticket sales), there was certainly an air of festivity and celebration surrounding opening night.
The happiest people in town must be the folks at the Theater League of Utah, who were responsible for bringing "Les Miserables" to Utah as the climax for its first season.
"Les Miz" is everything you've heard it is.
This is the very same soul-stirring, flag-waving, rabble-rousing production that has thrilled and excited millions of theatergoers around the world. It's a virtual carbon copy of the show that's still packing them in on Broadway.
While it's not a "star" vehicle, like Debbie Reynolds' "Unsinkable Molly Brown" or Cathy Rigby's "Peter Pan," it's a demanding production that requires a strong ensemble and exceptional performers.
Leading the pack are Brian Lynch and David Jordan as the heroic but humble Jean Valjean and his relentless nemesis, Inspector Javert. Utah's dry climate did give Lynch and some of the other singers a few problems on opening night (the company has spent the past several weeks on the much wetter West Coast), but both Lynch and Jordan gave performances that were powerful and moving.
Other standouts were hometown girl Candese Marchese as Eponine, the waif from a family of scavengers (and hopelessly in love with a rebellious young Parisian student who only has eyes for Valjean's adopted daughter, Cosette); J.P. Dougherty and Diana Rogers as the Thenardiers (Then-are-dee-ase), Eponine's ne'er-do-well parents; Marian Murphy as Cosette; Gilles Chiasson as Marius; and Lisa Vroman as Fantine.
That notorious old curmudgeon W.C. Fields would've detested being in this show because of the extremely talented children involved. First-nighters at the Capitol Theatre were treated to the talents of 9-year-old Taylor John and Jennifer Elaine Davis, 10, as, respectively, Gavroche, a street-smart Parisian urchin, and young Cosette, who is treated as nothing more than a Cinderella-like slave in the Thenardiers' abusive home.
Victor Hugo's epic novel provided an ample supply of subplots for this spectacular stage production - Fantine's dismal descent into whoredom and her deathbed promise from Valjean that he will protect her illegitimate child, Cosette . . . the Thenardiers' darkly comedic perspective on life . . . the social unrest in the streets of Paris . . . and the love that develops between Marius and Cosette.
Woven into all of this is the ongoing cat-and-mouse chase between Valjean and Javert.
Visually and artistically, "Les Miserables" is stunning. Some scenes look like classic paintings that could be hanging in the Louvre - with costuming and lighting creating just the right mood.
Overall, of course, this is a fairly somber and dramatic piece. Except for the bawdy antics of the Thenardiers and the show's only joyous scene - the grand ball at Marius and Cosette's wedding - this is a heart-wrenching look at the seamy underbelly of Paris, when the masses of downtrodden and poor were barely hanging on and leading a hand-to-mouth existence.
It's pretty depressing stuff.
But there's a turbulent undercurrent, too. Below the seething rage of the angry, fired-up students and beneath the dreary life of the pimps and prostitutes ("Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap . . . Join your sisters . . . Make money in your sleep"), there's a message of hope for humanity.
Even with the death and destruction at the students' barricades, even with Monsieur Thenardier stooping to stealing gold teeth from bodies in the sewers of Paris, it's Valjean's spirit of hope and humility ("To love another person is to see the face of God") that comes through.
Much of the success in packing Hugo's expansive novel into a three-hour and 10-minute musical goes to the ingenious staging. Like a well-oiled machine, this entire production moves along at a rapid clip. The 34-foot turntable is central to most of the continuous action, but it's the massive hydraulic equipment - a bridge in teeming Paris in some sequences, the students' barricade in others - that also draw a lot of oohs and ahhs from the audience.
What really makes this show work, though, is Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer's music and lyrics. When the frustrated students drive their colleagues into fighting for freedom, you almost want to go up on the stage and join in the fever-pitch crusade.
This is a show full of powerful and stirring music.
(I was reminded of a film several years back about another French uprising - "Is Paris Burning?" - in which a network of underground patriots, assisted by Yankee troops, liberated Paris near the end of World War II. This, too, had music that was capable of fanning the foment of angry Parisians and working them up into a frenzy in order to strike a blow for freedom.
I defy anyone to listen to the strains of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and not feel its emotional impact. The full orchestra, under direction of Robert S. Gustafson, does an exceptional job.
This is no ordinary "bus-and-truck" tour. The show hasn't been pared down to next-to-nothing (remember how sparse the "Evita" tour looked?).
- I KNOW I'M PROBABLY GOING to get cards, letters and phone calls about some of the bawdier aspects of this show. But I also believe that, while some folks might be uncomfortable with some of the language and situations, this production does maintain the integrity of Victor Hugo's massive book.
This was an era in France when there really were prostitutes openly plying their trade. (I assume that Paris didn't acquire the nickname "the City of Love" just because everyone tried to get along with each other.)
The Thenardiers are a nasty bunch, too. They're crude and lewd - and the slightly naughty "Master of the House" shows them for just what they are: con artists with a mean streak.
There's a whole shopping list of things you'd never find in "The Sound of Music" or "My Fair Lady." If you want a light-hearted, frothy visit to France, then go out and rent "Funny Face."
"Les Miserables" has everything from such minor infractions as thievery and cheating to brazen streetwalkers (and openly anxious clients), child abuse, violence, lyrics sprinkled with profanity and various expressions of sensuality.
But this was France more than a century and a half ago. Life in the streets and back alleys wasn't pretty. It wasn't then and it isn't now - but we can (I dearly hope) learn something about humanity from this.
"Les Miserables" is a beautiful, thought-provoking, almost operatic musical. And I can hardly wait until it comes back in the fall of 1992.