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.”

Examples:

  • 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!

THE MISSING TURNTABLE

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.

SPOILERS!

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.

TRIMMED SONGS

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.

BACKDROPS

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).

SPOILERS!

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.

THE LIGHTING EFFECT

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

SPOILERS!

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.

ALTERED MUSIC

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.

PHYSICALITY

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

SPOILERS!

(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!

Happy MLKJr Day!

20120116-162042.jpg

I hope everyone is having a safe and relaxing Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, filled with inspiration and peacefulness. 🙂 Happy wishes from Florida!

Author interview tonight!

I’m excited to be a guest on tonight’s A Book and a Chat interview at 630 p.m! (That’s my Florida time — so please adjust if you don’t live on the east coast).

Please drop by to give a listen or share your thoughts and questions. I’m looking forward to chatting about From Light to Dark!

From Light to Dark

Polygamy with Skyrim

…a spoilerful collection of gamer nonsense, written by a happily married, arguably sane, female gamer  🙂

 

Not too long ago, I married another man while my husband cheered me on.

Afterward I slayed a dragon and sold its scales at the local general goods store, but that’s nothing special.

Let’s get this part out of the way for those of you who have come here just to get a simple breakdown.

(WARNING: there are unhidden spoilers for the game Skyrim below)

To get married in Skyrim:

  • Go to Riften.
  • Visit the Temple of Mara.
  • Find Maramal. Buy an amulet of Mara… OR
  • Do quests at the temple to get an amulet of Mara.
  • Wear the amulet, and go talk to the character you hope to marry (Same-sex marriage IS allowed, but Lydia is NOT an option).
  • If the character seems interested, follow that line of conversation.
  • Return with the character to Riften to make it official.
  • Live happily ever after.

Now, for those of you who are here for the deeply romantic story of my fictional wedding, here you go!

The Joy of Marriage in Skyrim

Part I: Fall in love… because the alpha guy with a heart – and a werewolf condition – is simply irresistible.

Part II: Decide to wed… because, really, there’s no need to bother your spouse-to-be with the details. Just let him know when you’re ready to claim him.

Part III: Travel to the slums of Riften… because, when you want to tie the knot with your lupine loveboat, nothing says “romance” quite like getting stopped by thieves and drug-addicts at every corner.

Part IV: Join the Temple of Mara… because everyone who’s just fallen in love wants to go witness for a church they’ve just heard of for the first time.

Part V: Get distracted by various Mara missions… because, like everything else in Skyrim, marriage can always wait.

Part VI: Notice the orphans… Wait. Why is that woman being so awful to them???

Part VII: Save your game… because you’re about to do something really wrong.

Part VIII: Take that horrible woman into the other room and shut the door… because the sweet little innocent children shouldn’t have to see this.

Part IX: Watch in horror as the kids come rushing in with glee… because they clearly are not the innocent sweethearts you imagined they were. They’re itty bitty demons in darling skin. Load your previous save and get out of that orphanage of evil. (NOTE: If you are interested in joining – or destroying the Dark Brotherhood, do not load your previous save. Carry on with your game from here.)

Part X: Do your part to clean up Riften… because that whole orphanage experience just made you feel dirty. Cure addicts. Encourage nice behavior. Get rid of dealers. Etc.

Part XI: Realize you’ve lost track of your original purpose in Riften. Go find Maramal… because nothing’s better than realizing the leader of the church you’ve been blindly supporting is one of those guys who goes into bars and yells at everyone there.

Part XII: Buy the amulet of Mara (if you don’t have it already)… because that’s all you really need to get a mate. Just wear a necklace that says, “On the Prowl.”

I'm available!

Part XIII: Wear the amulet… because it’s fun to see who’s interested. This is kind of like dieting and working out for a month, putting on your cutest outfit, curling your hair, and spritzing your best perfume all over your neck and wrists. Only the amulet is easier because you just equip it and move on.

Part XIV: Nearly propose to the wrong guy… because the irresistible werewolf with a heart has a twin brother.  🙂

Part XV: Approach Farkas and feel a little disappointed by his casual acceptance… because being a hot guy with a sensitive side apparently does not necessarily mean he’s also good with words.

You and me, Farkas.

Part XVI: Go back to Riften! Jitters!

Wait... is he having second thoughts?

Part XVII: Lose your husband after the ceremony… um, what?

Part XVIII: Reload and do the wedding four more times before Farkas will actually stay in the temple to discuss living arrangements.

It'll be a great day if you stick around this time...

Part XIX: Decide to live in your own house… because nothing’s better than home-cooked meals and a successful store that your husband decides to run while you’re out hunting dragons.

Part XX: Lose Lydia… because apparently she does not like this new union.

Part XXI: Live happily ever after – and welcome Lydia back with all of your loot a week later.

Whatever. Elves are tall. We were on the stairs.

Ah… sweet romance.

Murder Ballads and Old Magic: Jason Jack Miller guest blog

~TODAY’S BLOG COMES FROM JASON JACK MILLER!~

In my novel Hellbender, things aren’t always what they appear to be. It’s set in an Appalachia where serpents can be called forth from rocky crevasses and rattlesnake beads can be used to keep the devil away. Springs can be poisoned from afar, and milk can be ‘blinked’–or tainted by a rival witch. The Appalachians of Hellbender may not be the tallest, but they are the oldest, and as such, contain many nooks where beliefs remained untouched for generations. In some instances, the valleys and ridges blocked modernization so well that the culture of the mountain people could be totally forgotten by the ‘outside’ world. In other words, the mountains have let time stand still.

Where streams carved hollows into the lush Appalachian Plateau, families found shelter from the same kind of persecution that forced their ancestors out of Europe a generation earlier. Many of the first Europeans to settle Appalachia were Germans who picked up stakes when Pennsylvania got just a little too crowded for them. They filtered down through the Shenandoah Valley, trickling westward as rivers like the Potomac and James poked holes in the imposing Allegheny Front, and later, through the Cumberland Gap. They brought fiddle tunes, some of which remain virtually unchanged in Appalachia compared to their counterparts in Europe, melodies that either succumbed to contemporary styles or had been forgotten altogether. The new wave of settlers brought their food culture–no place on earth expresses the German love of deep-frying like Pennsylvania, with its potato chips and funnel cakes, and Southern culture’s chicken fried chicken and hush puppies. Even the log cabin, the butt of many an Appalachia joke, came from Germany and Scandinavia by way of those first Europeans.

Living so far from civilization had its quirks. Laws were less likely to be enforced, or just as easily ignored depending on which side of the law you fell. The Whiskey Rebellion is a prime example of folks thumbing their noses at distant lawmakers. The influence of the Catholic Church diminished in much the same way. It wasn’t until Protestant churches ordained ‘lay pastors’ to venture into the wilderness to tame the savages that religion gained a strong foothold in Appalachia. Not that it mattered to some folks, who were content to rely on the traditional culture of their ancestors, the magic that kept the devil away. The Swiss and German-speaking people of Helvetia, West Virginia, still burn an effigy of Old Man Winter on Fasnacht, a pre-Lenten holiday that falls on the cross-quarter day of Imbolc. It’s a tradition that can be traced back to pre-Roman Europe.

At its most basic, the magic of Appalachia is a response to the dangers of the new landscape. Mountain lions, wolves, bears, snakes, harsh winters, floods and unruly neighbors were just a few of the perils faced by those first settlers. In times of severe famine, or when a cow had been cursed (or had simply just stopped producing milk) an axe could provide magical sustenance. The blade is stuck into a tree and a rag is tied to the end. With the utterance of a few magic words, milk will drip from the threads into a bucket providing the family with nourishment. The magical nature of the axe comes to Appalachia via Scandinavia, most likely as a result of the magical nature of Thor’s Hammer.

From Hellbender: “There’s still plenty of women in these hills who can get a full pail of milk from an ax handle or an old rag. And Mary Lewis was one of them. I seen it done with my own eyes a hundred times.” 

Hair magic is another theme seen in Appalachian folklore. The idea that you could have control over a person if you possessed something that belonged to them is a belief expressed in many different cultures, not just Appalachian. Folklore says if just one of your hairs found its way into a bird’s nest you’d end up insane. So hair clippings and fingernails are buried, and their location is kept a secret by the buriers. It may sound strange, but the same idea is a building block of Roman Catholicism, with the consuming of the body and blood of Christ.

From Hellbender: “She wrapped the hair around her middle finger and made three crosses over Alex’s lips. Inaudible words flowed from Chloe’s mouth to Alex’s ear. Chloe pulled a silver coin out of her pocket, dropped it into the cup and tipped the purple liquid toward Alex’s gasping mouth. “Put the coin in your mouth, but don’t swallow it.”

The ultimate expression of Old World magic comes from a need for the most basic of human necessities–protection, mostly from enemies, especially from the Devil. Of course, the magic needed for such an old foe is an old one and there are none older than the SATOR Square. SATOR Squares have reportedly been found at the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed in 79 A.D. Early Christians considered it a sign of their coming savior. One found in Manchester, England, in the Second Century was taken as proof Christianity had spread at least that far in less than 200 years.

Essentially a multi-directional palindrome, a SATOR Square is placed above a window. The devil becomes confused by the repeated letters. It’s a key piece of the iconography of the Hellbender cover, designed by Hatch Show Print of Nashville, Tennessee.

From Hellbender: “Jamie picked open a pair peanuts then threw the shells into the fire. “SATOR squares? I don’t know. They’re like puzzles I suppose. They’ve been found on the walls of buildings destroyed by Vesuvius at Pompeii. Early Christians say it was a message from God saying their savior was on his way.”

He gestured for Dave’s stick and began drawing rows of letters in the dirt. “Five lines of five letters arranged in a square that form multiple palindromes.”

I tried to read the letters, but it was difficult in the low light. I leaned over to see. It read:

S A T O R

A R E P O

T E N E T

O P E R A

R O T A S

“Some people say the words are nonsense, but when rearranged in a cross they spell out ‘paternoster’ flanked by an ‘A’ and an ‘O’.” Jamie handed Dave back his stick. “Our father and the Alpha and Omega.” Jamie stomped the letters away with his foot.

Silence fell over the camp. By now the crickets were in full swing. Finally, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut anymore. “In my life I’d never seen anything to prove magic was real. Magic would’ve kept my mom around. Would’ve kept Jane alive.”

I’ve witnessed some crazy/scary things in my time here in Appalachia–mountain lion footprints where mountain lions were thought to be extinct, back-to-back comets after 50 years with none, ball lightning, mountaintop removal. Things that have rational, explanations, even if the explanations are unpopular. But I’ve had even more amazing experiences with people I’ve met and friends I’ve made here–making music, drinking wine, paddling wild rivers.

Something’s going on up in the mountains, but it’s not my job to figure it out. Nobody believed me about the mountain lion footprints anyway. Maybe it has something to do with the people. After all, it’s people who end up passing those stories on. And maybe the stories are so hard to believe because of how they went down. Late at night. Middle of nowhere. Not a credible witness in the bunch.

Or maybe it’s the mountains themselves. Over the last three hundred million years they’re the only real constant in this equation. Moses received the Ten Commandments on a mountain. The gods of ancient Greece lived on a mountain, too. So maybe it’s only in the mountains, my Appalachians, that snakes can be called, and protection from the devil can be obtained with a few rows of ancient letters. Doesn’t matter what I believe, those traditions will be here long after I’ve gone.

Jason Jack Miller hails from Fayette County, Pennsylvania, as in, “Circus freaks, temptation and the Fayette County Fair,” made famous by The Clarks in the song, “Cigarette.” He is a writer, photographer and musician who has been hassled by cops in Canada, Mexico and the Czech Republic. An outdoor travel guide he co-authored with his wife in 2006 jumpstarted his freelancing career; his work has since appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, online, and as part of a travel guide app for mobile phones. He wrote the novels Hellbender and All Saints during his graduate studies at Seton Hill University, where is now adjunct creative writing faculty. He’s been a whitewater raft guide, played guitar in a garage band and served as a concierge at a five star resort hotel in Florida. Now he’s an Authors Guild member. When he isn’t writing he’s on his mountain bike or looking for his next favorite guitar. He is currently writing and recording the soundtrack to his novel, The Devil and Preston Black.

Reader Input Requested: Mary Findley guest blog

Oliver Unmerged, from Mary Findley's steampunk mashup concept!

~Today’s blog comes FROM MARY FINDLEY!~

Reader Input Requested! Please post your thoughts in the comments.

I am Mary Findley, Goodreads indie author, traveling in a tractor-trailer around the country with my husband as driver. We have three 20-something children in NY, OK, and AL. My published works are historical fiction, but I have always loved fantasy and sci-fi, wrote it in hr. high and high school, and am working my way back to it. I have some sci-fi and fantasy short stories, and my husband Michael has a sci-fi compilation on Goodreads called The Space Empire Saga.

Since I saw The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie I have wanted to create a YA graphic novel based on some literary characters I love. Part of my desire was to be faithful to the original authors’ depictions in a way I thought the movie failed to be. I want input from readers as I plan this.

My story is set in Victorian times, or at least the later 1800’s. I am also a Christian, and I want to write for that audience, but I am not opposed to some violence and non-explicit sexual references.

The book will be called The Alexander Legacy and involve the uncovering of the man behind a plot to organize and send round the world pickpockets, prostitutes and other “perps” taught deadly sophistication to extort, to spy, and to steal on an international level. I hope the identity of the villain will be a surprise but also ironic.

The leader of my group is Phoebe Moore Campbell from Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. I like the idea of her being now a celebrity and wealthy upper-class, but formerly a servant and housekeeper. I think it will enable her to mingle and get information for the cause on all levels of society.

Oliver Twist will lend a steampunk flavor to the story and figure strongly as one of the more important characters. He has grown up to inherit his family’s fortune and become an inventor, but still seeks to right the wrongs of the corrupt welfare system and stop the underworld of fences, housebreakers, and prostitutes he was almost swallowed up by with his amazing gadgets.

Next is Prince Florizel of Bohemia from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Suicide Club. The others would mostly be amateurs at this intrigue and pursuit, and he would be experienced, and experienced with its cost.

Mowgli and the black leopard Bagheera from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book will bring tracking skills, a hatred of greed, and the ability to destroy the credibility of any criminal who dares testify that a “half-naked jungle man” and a black nightmare cat accosted them in a dark London alley.

Edward Ferras from Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility serves as the group’s chaplain and has knowledge of the church and the corruption of its members. Corruption in government, religion and business figure prominently in the plot, so I am not picking on the church.

Fun See is another character from Alcott’s books mentioned above, a Chinese merchant who keeps an appearance of traditional culture but knows everything about shipping and trade in all the British and Asian ports. I would consider substituting another Oriental character here if readers have a better idea. I am hoping to find some kind of cowboy character, as well as a black (African, African America) character. If at least one of these were female that would be a good thing, to keep Phoebe from being lonely. These are the three characters I need readers’ help with.

Interview!

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

🙂  See you there.