I Dreamed a Dream


Les Miserables comes to the Magic City.

by Phillip Ratliff

 

There’s a line of demarcation in the musical theater world separating those who hold an almost religious devotion to Les Miserables from those who consider it the worst sort of treacle. I suspect the pro- and anti-Les Mis crowds would cite the same trait to make their case. Les Miserables’s proponents, like its through-sung format (literally melodrama, for those who like technical terms), which places it alongside the noble art form of opera. Les Mis, the antis would argue, is hardly operatic at all. It is, rather, dressed-up French pop pretending to be opera, a petty crime made worse by the bloviated attempt at a cover-up.

I’m inclined to agree with the detractors. Burrowing into the musical’s stylistic pedigree leads you to peculiar antecedents: Michel Legrand of “Brian’s Song” fame; Morris Albert, who gave the world its warm and fuzzy “Feelings”; and Jacques Brel, who inflicted us with “Seasons in the Sun,” a tearjerker about, I’ve long assumed, a terminally ill Canadian boy. The creators of Les Miserables, to my ear, have nothing on those guys, save utter relentlessness.

I shared my suspicions about Les Miserables with Red Mountain Theatre Executive Director Keith Cromwell and was met with this response: “Oh my god, I’d like to take you out for a drink and beat you over the head with the facts.” After things had settled down a bit, Cromwell proceeded to present his evidence. Les Miserables, Cromwell says, addresses the question of faith and conscience, of ultimate right and wrong. The moral dilemmas in Les Mis are profound. That audiences, throughout the show’s 30-year history, have come in droves to see it is a testament not to its superficiality but its insight.

Through a quirk in the performance rights process, RMT is able to present these questions, musically posed, through a spate of performances this July. Those who follow musical theatre will note that this is while Les Mis is running on Broadway, a rare phenomenon likely to raise local interest in seeing the show. Not that, in Cromwell’s estimation, Les Mis needs much help in securing a local fan base. “Look, when I first saw Les Miserables, I thought it was too long and operatic. It’s sung through. It’s heavy. But people just love it. It is an epic drama about the human condition. If you walked up to anyone in the world, and asked him or her to sing something from Les Mis, you’d have a high likelihood of getting a hit,” Cromwell says.

Red Mountain Theatre will present 28 performances of Les Miserables starting July 8. Visit www.redmountaintheatre.org for more details.

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