Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Post About Les Mis

Way back in seventh grade, half my middle school went to see the high school's production of Les Miserables. We're supposed to take a fine arts field trip every year. That always consists of a few hundred of us walking down the street-we don't even have to turn a corner-and sitting in their auditorium for free. Of course, they could ship us off to some Italian art museum and that would be equally classy, but I don't think any of the teachers have thought of that yet.
So I sat there, watched the play, and decided it was amazing. The lyrics and tunes stayed in my head for the next three years, but I think I would have more or less forgotten it if it weren't for Esme.

She's smiling, so that either means she's thinking about theater or ways to torture her little sister.
Esme was already thoroughly addicted to the preforming arts when we saw Les Miserables. This was during our second semester of seventh grade. That means she hasn't shut up about it for the last year, semester, and month of June. She owns the soundtrack and has seen every movie version of Les Mis, as we lazy Americans call it, in existence. Ever since I told her I had a blog, she's been bugging me to do a post about Les Mis. She took French in eighth grade specifically because of the play, and then she read the book.
They paid authors by the word in those days.  
Our city arts council put on the student version this summer, so for the last few months of school I'd walk into homeroom and hear:
"Guess what, Eliza? I get to go pick through dead bodies tonight!"
"Eliza! I get to rob a house on Saturday!"
"I died last night, Eliza. In a barricade!"
This barricade.

So I had to see it.
The day before, I was sitting around with some people I know from church, teenagers and youth leaders alike. We were discussing the play since it's kind of big news. This one hotshot guy in his thirties started bragging about how he read the book.
"The whole book?"
"Well, the abridged version."
"My friend read the real one. She was thirteen."
"Oh. You should read it."
I thought to myself, But I want to enjoy my existence. "Why would I want to do that?"
"It would make your mom so proud."
I read Little Women when I was nine and I can stretch my top lip over my nostrils. She should be proud of that. I brought up the book discussion with my mom.
"I'd be proud if you cleaned your room."
Anyways, I saw the play. Two years is a long time to forget how amazing it is. Now I can't get the song "Little People" out of my head. Emse is thrilled to have converted me to "Mis-dom", as she calls it.
My favorite character is Gavroche. He's this brilliant, cheeky street kid who hangs around the poor people and student rebels. I love the way all the rebels-who are probably supposed to be in their twenties, though they're being portrayed by teenagers-shut up and listen to whatever he says. When he informs them that somebody has died, nobody asks him for causes or sources. They just sit there in silence. Until Enjorlas starts singing about it. And when he tells them Inspector Javert, who has up until this point successfully pretended to be their loyal compatriot, is in reality a spy, everybody loads their guns.

When you hear "student version", you'll probably assume it's dumbed-down, major themes, conflicts, and dialogue eradicated. Or that all the swearing and references to prostitution have been censored.
No, it's all still there. They just shortened it and gave it a special logo.
I feel like somebody's going to say, "Of course they had to keep the swearing in, otherwise teenagers wouldn't be interested."

Cosette never carries a book stack in either version. She isn't one of the students. She  probably never went  to school because she and her foster father move around a lot to evade Inspector Javert...but you don't care, do you?

Didn't I just tell you the first time I saw it was in a high school? School. The profanity's only acceptable because it's coming from a professional script. Like how required reading books were written by professional writers, so Ray Bradbury and J.D. Salinger can swear all they want.
We actually are capable of appreciating quality entertainment. Contrary to popular belief, teenage boys don't spend every waking moment playing video games, and teenage girls don't subsist on a strict diet of Twilight, Gossip Girls, and Glamour magazine. Oh, and get this-we read books. Most of us don't even own a personal kindle. 
The three people I know who have read actually read the book-the real book-are all teenage girls. The oldest is seventeen. 
Les Miserables is a classic, it is amazing. But that doesn't mean we can't understand it. It would probably be hard for young children to appreciate, but not the 14-18 year olds who were preforming it.

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