Category Archives: theatre

The New Les Miz, with spoilers

Les Misérables has changed. Maybe you’ve known this for a while. I didn’t know until shortly before I went to see the show.

Dream the Dream

My ignorance of the change isn’t because I’m just a casual fan. While there are definitely theatre-goers who are more well-versed in the musical of miserable French people than I am, my love for this show goes well beyond what someone would call “casual” … or “sane.”


  • I have owned the following original soundtracks: London, Broadway, France, Hungary, and the Symphonic. London is the best, by far.
  • I had a cat named Eponine.
  • I can sing nearly every line of the show – even the ones that aren’t part of major songs.
  • I own Stage By Stage and the Dream Cast concert performance with Michael Ball and Colm Wilkinson – on VHS.
  • Calling someone a “Cosette” was a biting insult among my friends and me.
  • I know what Fantine really sold instead of that necklace.
  • I have seen productions of Les Misérables in the following places: London, Broadway, Orlando, and Tampa. Some of these several times.
  • I love Forbidden Broadway, Volume 2.
  • I saw Colm Wilkinson in concert.
  • If you need more proof, here’s a picture from my senior yearbook:

Rabid fan, then, let us agree to call me.

In the past few years, though, Les Misérables has kind of fallen off of my map. I still listen to the Symphonic soundtrack on my iPod, but I haven’t looked for new information online, and I haven’t been to the show, mainly because it hasn’t toured here as frequently as it used to.

This year it came back. I was pumped. My big Christmas gift was two tickets for mid-January, and I was so excited that I have listened to nothing other than Les Misérables the soundtrack and Les Misérables the audio book since I opened the gift envelope on Christmas day.

It was about two weeks ago that I learned there had been major changes to the show. After that I spent hours online researching what exactly these changes were. Here is what I learned:

  • There is no more turntable stage.
  • Some songs have been trimmed.
  • The new backdrops are inspired by Victor Hugo’s own paintings.
  • There is a new lighting effect that is supposed to draw more emotion.
  • The music has changed slightly.
  • Trevor Nunn thinks the revival is a betrayal.

To tell the truth, I wanted to know specific details. Usually I have a strict ban on spoilers of all kinds, but this play has a lot of emotional history for me. I was nervous about going in unprepared – what if they had butchered it? Sure, lots of reviewers said it was just fine, but do those reviewers really love this play the way I do?

No one was willing to spoil the details online. At least, no one I found was willing to spoil enough. The result was that I went in to the theatre on Wednesday, half giddy with excitement, half holding my breath in terror.

Yeah, I was covered in the blood of angry men and the dark of ages past.

So, in case you’re here because you, too, are biting your red and black painted nails before you go into the theatre – or because the tour isn’t coming to your area, and you really want to know – I’m going to post spoilers. In black. You have to highlight to see them.

Think long and hard before you do this, though! Notice that I lived through the experience.  🙂  You can likely make it through without spoilers, as well.

Before I begin, I’ll give a quick, two-sentence review of the play that sums up my feelings:

It was good – not as powerful as before, and certainly not better, but good. Some changes were fantastic, some were awful, and most were just fine.

Now, I’ll continue with spoilers below. The whole thing needs to be highlighted to be seen, but in case you are subscribed through email, or your screen colors are off somehow, or you just can’t stop yourself, I’ll also give you clear warnings when I’m about to describe a specific detail. Please read with caution!


This is the biggest issue for many people. You may go through something like what I did: “What?! But that’s one of the most famous things about this play!!!” then, “Well, I suppose it must have been a big, expensive pain to travel with it…” then, “Hang on. There are some important moments that require the turntable!”

Exactly. I mean specifically the moment from Gavroche’s death to the aftermath of the final battle.

For the most part, the sets and backdrops (more about those in a bit) make up for the lack of the spinning stage. Things move comfortably around, allowing for smooth transitions that honestly look like slightly stiffer attempts at the exact same thing we’re used to seeing. The overall effect, for fans of the original version, is fine. The show may seem slightly less alive – as if it has just been thawed out and is still unable to move freely – but twenty minutes in you’ll have adjusted to the new look.


But there is one moment in particular – viewing Gavroche’s death and Enjolras’ body – that cannot be done without the turntable. This is usually the point of the play where I’m in tears, and it does not happen. Here is what they do instead:

Gavroche climbs over the barricade to gather ammunition. He vanishes and carries on with his song unseen. We watch as the students wait in fear, and Grantaire particularly falls apart when Gavroche is finally gone. Then we move on.

Yes, Gavroche now dies off stage.

The final battle takes place, and everybody dies pretty much as usual (slow motion has been removed from the play entirely). Enjolras does his flag-waiving bit when it’s clear they don’t stand a chance, and he falls out of sight the same way as before. In this version, when Javert comes to search for Valjean, the barricade parts, and soldiers walk past rolling a small cart that carries two bodies: Enjolras and Gavroche. Javert, at the height of emotion in the music, brings his torch close to the two corpses and pauses to let us feel sad. Then the cart rolls away, and the play carries on.

You won’t see it like this anymore.

This was not very powerful for me. I asked my husband, who was seeing Les Miz for the first time, and he did not think it was all that sad, either. In my opinion, this change constitutes a true loss.

Apart from this, the rest of the play does just fine without the turntable.


Things feel pretty rushed in places, but overall it wasn’t a big problem for me. I’d love to hear what others think about this.


The backdrops paintings are inspired from Victor Hugo’s own art. These are quite pretty, and they do work to add depth to the stage (which is really needed, since we lost the turntable).


Here is an example of the bishop’s scene

In addition, some of these paintings actually move: for example, one stretches to give the effect of the students marching toward the audience through the street; another scrolls to show Jean Valjean crawling through the sewer.

In most scenes I could take this or leave it. They were without debate attractive set pieces, but they neither thrilled me nor took away from the magic. Sometimes I found myself thinking, “Oh, cool,” but that was it. Except for once.

One part of the show worked really well with these paintings: Javert’s suicide. This has changed, again because of the lack of the turntable. Before, you will recall, he stood on the stage and pretended to fall as the bridge flew up behind him, and then he kind of rolled under blue lighting as the turntable moved until he was “washed” off stage. I had always liked that effect, to tell the truth, so I wondered how they would handle this in the new version.

Now Javert stands on the railing of the bridge instead of holding on in front of it. Simply seeing him like this is unsettling and moving. Then the bridge flies up behind Javert, but he remains suspended in the air – I’m assuming he’s attached to something we can’t see – and he flails around for his last note while the backdrops swirl with amorphous colors behind him. Eventually he is consumed in darkness, and the song ends. This was so fantastic I nearly gave a standing ovation right then.


That brings me to the lighting effect. At first this will seem pretty cheesy:


bright white spots shine on anyone who either dies or prays. Think about the frequency at which this occurs in Les Misérables, and you’re looking at a lot of Heaven lights. There’s nothing subtle about this; the effect is meant to be obvious. You may even begin to roll your eyes after this happens a few times, but then you realize they’ve just been preparing you for something more powerful: after the students die on the barricade, there is a slight pause, and then – POW! a bajillion Heaven lights shine all over the stage. It’s extremely moving, and it demonstrates the heartbreaking point that somehow a ton of bodies doesn’t quite get across – there are way too many deaths here.

It’s also quite sad when you’re used to this light representing the ascent to Heaven, but Javert instead vanishes into blackness.


This is not problematic. The music sounds a bit different in places, but it feels punched up, and in a few places it adds to the emotional strength of the scene. I’d also love to hear what others think about this.


This play is now very physical. You will see characters punching each other, throwing each other up against walls, choking each other out, and even having gratuitous sex on stage. For me, this felt odd. I didn’t like it, but I could see that there had been a deliberate choice to make the show more physical, and perhaps that works for some viewers.

There you have it! You’ll also notice some blocking changes


(the play opens on a ship – Valjean was a galley slave – and there’s a weird thing at the beginning of “At the End of the Day” where everybody kind of slumps into a large heap and sings… not sure what that was about),

but for the most part this should cover what you can expect. At its heart, this is still Les Misérables. Your favorite characters are still the same, and all of your favorite songs are still there. Yep, even “Turning,” though that would have been first on my list of things to change!


I’m answering questions over at AF Stewart’s blog! Come stop by to say hello!

🙂  See you there.

Anonymous, Shakespeare, Nerdiness… and a book!

I’m guest blogging over at the Madhouse! Come see what I have to say about Shakespeare, the new film Anonymous, and generally being a nerd.

And, speaking of Shakespeare, have you seen the release of my book yet? It has a Romeo and Juliet theme — with magic! What could be better for a fall read?  🙂  Get your copy now and let me know your thoughts.

From Light to Dark


Today I’m going to brag about my super cool husband.  🙂

Rob played Dog in a show called “Good Dog” by William Roeder at the first annual John Goring Memorial One Act Festival. The festival ended yesterday with an awards ceremony for the best plays, performances, direction, tech, etc.

Not only did “Good Dog” take many of the awards including Best Show, but Rob won Best Actor!  🙂  He did a fantastic job, and I was so glad to see him be recognized for it.


Photo taken by "Good Dog" director, Bob Lipka


The judging must have been tough because each show had a lot to offer. These were local writers, actors, directors, and tech, all overflowing with talent and passion for homegrown theatre. My favorite kind of people.  🙂  Every show in the festival was the result of hard work, and it absolutely showed.

I can’t wait for the next productions by Playwrights’ Round Table. If you are in Central Florida, be sure to check them out! Their support for local theatre is fantastic.

Facebook down!

In case you’re wondering, yes, Facebook is down right now. How ever will we cope?  😉  Most people seem to be flocking to Twitter to discuss how this outage makes them feel.

What did I do first thing when Facebook went down? I burned some Spaghetti-Os. Not because I was distressed or anything. I’m just that good at cooking.

Next, perhaps I’ll take a look at the characters in my play. They don’t have Facebook, so I can communicate with them just fine.  🙂

Good luck with the social network disruption, everyone!

Shakespeare translated… to Klingon

Oh, yes. It’s definitely happening. This Saturday evening at the Washington Shakespeare Company. If anyone goes to this, I want details.  🙂

What do you <3 or hate about plays?

Every form of fiction has its benefits and its drawbacks. I’d like to explore each kind one at a time. In my previous pros/cons post I wrote about short stories. Before that I wrote about novels. Feel free to add your thoughts to the discussions there.

But what about other forms of fiction? They have different benefits and drawbacks of their own, along with shared features of others.




  • They happen in the physical world, in the same room with you.  The audience can feel the energy that the actors give off, and it’s contagious.
  • You usually aren’t involved in the actual story, but you get to see the events unfolding before your eyes as if they are really happening.
  • Other benefits?


  • In order to experience a play, you have to be available during show time, and there has to be a theatre near your home.
  • Believability of the characters relies largely on the actors and their ability to perform well. If an actor falls out of character, the story falls apart.
  • Other drawbacks?

What else?

Tossing Old Toys: The Velveteen Rabbit

One of my favorite forms of fiction is interactive theatre for kids. Children are the best audiences; they give you instant feedback about how your play is doing. Trust me, if little kids don’t like your show, they’ll let you know right then and there by falling asleep or stuffing crayons into their mouths and screaming. If they like your show, they’ll sit still with mouths open and eyes wide, watching each actor’s every move.

When I was an undergraduate, I wrote for (and performed with, occasionally) a troupe of adults who put on plays for local children. We called ourselves Attic Players.

It remains one of my favorite college experiences, though the theatre wasn’t actually connected to my university. This was purely extracurricular. I learned a lot, and I had a wonderful time.

One of the shows I wrote is still available through Heuer Publishing for other schools and organizations to put on: my retelling of Margery Williams’ beloved story, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” This play continues to get several productions a year, and it makes me happy to think of other children getting to enjoy Williams’ wonderful tale.

That particular show is a very happy memory for me. I wrote it the semester I graduated from college and had to move back home. In fact, I wasn’t even going to be in town for the rehearsals or production. I emailed the script up to the troupe, and that was that.

It was the first time I’d written for Attic Players without being involved in the rest of the process, and I felt a little homesick for the theatre and the actors.

Every day I wondered how things were going. When the sun set outside, I felt as though I should be heading to the theatre to get to work. But they were four hours away, and, since I had already completed the script, I wasn’t really needed.

That December, the troupe called to tell me they would be starting the show, and they invited me to come watch. Thrilled and a little nervous, I got in my car and drove to Tallahassee. I had no idea how the rehearsals had gone. Would the audience enjoy it? Would there be mouths full of crayons?

I arrived and took my seat. The house (a large room upstairs from the theatre’s main stage) was packed with hyper children from several field trip groups. I held my breath. The lights above us dimmed, and the show began.

And there they were, my old colleagues playing the lines I’d written for the characters I’d described. I looked at the audience. Parents watched with nostalgic smiles. Kids sat still with wide eyes and open mouths.

The end came, and everyone cheered. I realized I was crying just a little bit.

Most likely this experience was a thousand times more magical for me than it was for anyone else.  🙂  For me it was a temporary return to a place I’d loved and had to leave. The story of the old toy that had to be thrown away suddenly meant something much more in the context of the situation. I was saying goodbye to my stage family. The sendoff they gave me was beautiful.

Now, when I receive a notice that another theatre has scheduled a run of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” I think of that day and how much respect I had for the members of that troupe. We’ve all moved on to a variety of paths, and I hope they’re doing well.  🙂

Communication With Characters

Yesterday, mostly because I needed a short break from all the work I’ve taken on lately, I went to an excellent matinée showing of “The Heiress” with my husband and my parents. This wasn’t a film; it was a theatrical production.

I’m a firm supporter of the performing arts, as anyone who knows me will already be aware.  In my completely unscientific opinion, this is also part of the reason I love transmedia storytelling, or alternate reality games.

When you’re watching a live show, the actors laugh, cry, argue, scream, die, or even yawn in front of you – and it’s contagious.

It’s similar to the experience of going to a party where there is a really charismatic, happy person hanging out at the punch bowl. You may not have been in the best mood when you arrived, but that person’s happiness is magnetic, and more often than not, people leave in a good mood.

Or, conversely, a charismatic, unhappy person can spoil an otherwise good party pretty quickly.

As audience members we can’t participate in the stories of most traditional theatre, but we can feel what the actors are putting themselves through. We’re close enough to see the sweat on their faces – sometimes we can even smell them if we’re in the front few rows. The actors’ energy is all around us, and in moments of high stress, we’re in it with them. This isn’t something that happened several months ago and was recorded for us to view later; it’s happening right now.

Something similar goes on in alternate-reality-transmedia-storytelling-game-fiction-whatever-we-would-like-to-call-it.  🙂

In ARGs, though audiences can’t feel the energy of live people in the same room (except in the case of live events), that same immediacy is there. As with theatre, ARGs provide the sense that the story is happening right now. In addition, audiences get to participate in the story itself, thus putting them even closer to the characters they have grown to love, hate, trust, or mistrust.

For me this is the most thrilling part of both theatre and ARGs. When I’m in the audience, I’m pulled into the rabbit hole, deep into a world that isn’t my own but feels very real. When I’m on the creation side, I’m developing worlds and scenarios that I know I would love to explore.

Are you a fan of immediacy in your fiction? Where else can we find this sense of communication with the characters?

War of the Worlds

“2X2L, calling CQ New York.”

Confession time: though I admire and respect Orson Welles, and I have heard parts of his War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and I know all kinds of odd stories about people who mistook it for a real Martian invasion – I haven’t actually listened to the whole thing before. Well, until yesterday.

“Isn’t there anybody on the air?”

Yesterday I not only listened to the Mercury Theatre’s loose adaptation of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel for the first time. I listened to it twice.

“Isn’t there anybody on the air?”

Because this production aired over 70 years ago, I don’t believe a review would be considered timely.  🙂  However, it’s probably safe to assume that I’m not the only person who missed the show. There are people out there, right now, who are just like me yesterday morning. They woke up today never having listened to War of the Worlds, and they might even go to bed tonight without listening to it.

Some people may live their entire lives and never hear this show.

“Isn’t there… anybody?”

That’s tragic. Now that I’ve learned what I was missing, I’m going to do my part to help others by simply telling you this: go here, sit back, and listen.

I’m a big fan of radio dramas. ZBS produces some of my favorite shows, and the #1 reason I miss my XM Radio is for the books and plays I used to hear every day (my wires and dashboard frame often melted in the Florida heat, and eventually I just gave up).

Once, I even made a radio drama of my own, with the help of my creative team. It was an indie job, but I enjoyed the process, and our listeners seemed to like it, too.

Radio performance is a special art that requires its own kind of writing and acting, I’ve found. The entire concept is something I thoroughly love.

And yet, there I was yesterday, unaware of how awesome the War of the Worlds radio play had been. *shame*

Now, thankfully, I can hold my head high and carry on loving radio dramas and Orson Welles alike, confident that I have listened to one of the very best productions ever put on the airways. And I can move on to find more exciting shows I may have missed… after I listen to WotW just once more.  🙂