Stage

Weales, Gerald

STAGE COMPANY LOVES MISERY NUNN & CAIRD'S 'LES MISE'RABLES' At the end of Lev Mise'rables, Cosette and Marius, the juvenile leads, crouch center stage, offering each other love and comfort,...

...Les Mise'rables, on and off stage, is a consumer pageant in which the players gobble up not only souvenirs but the sugar-coated vision of human misery that makes all this possible...
...I have nothing against the pathetic...
...The cosmetic impulse in Les Mise'rables is most obvious in the scene on the barricades...
...Even so, I remember Hugo's work as a philosophical melodrama in the great nineteenth-century tradition...
...The response to the mechanical marvels, to spectacle for its own sake, is a kind of worship of things that is one with the sanitizing of potential audience distress...
...The musical version is a theatrical melodrama in which the philosophical concerns are reduced to singable slogans and the chief ingredient, as becomes a stage melodrama, is pathos...
...the process ends in a tableau of destruction tf»| milks off any possibility of anger or horror...
...Only poor Javert is absent...
...Yet, the souvenir stand dXLes Mise'rables is particularly revealing...
...I am not quite sure what they were singing about, but it was an inspiriting moment after the fashion of Annie ("Tomorrow"), Do Re Mi ("Make Someone Happy") and Carousel ("You'll Never Walk Alone...
...There one can buy T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, all manner of merchandise decorated with the sweet child's face that looks out, large-eyed, from the advertisements for the show...
...The young couple join in the dead and the living bound in a hymn to human possibility...
...My companion turned away, saying, "I can't bear to see all those women in mink coats elbowing one another for position to buy a T-shirt with the picture of a starving child on it...
...Les Mise'rables is 24 April 1987: 245 one of those novels that everyone, including me, thinks he has read and which practically no one, including me, actually has read...
...They are the show...
...In some wayMf suggests eighteenth-century battle pieces like Battle ofBurM 246: Commonweal er's Hill, but, despite the conventional positions of the figures in John Trumbull's painting, death seems to have crossed that field...
...The production got an ovation, but I am not sure who was applauding whom...
...Since he died a suicide, it's true of Valjean's conviction that the human heart is more powerful than THE LAW, the directors really should have made room for him in the final moment of choral uplift...
...it is about performance...
...My attention was diverted from the final musical message by the realization that whatever the show thought it was about, it was really an account of how the suffering and pain of so many people, not to say all those deaths in the failed revolution, were simply the means by which the two wimpish lovers are brought together...
...In Les Mise'rables, the image has the look of a ceramic table ornament, a collectible so elegant that the audience, undisturbed, can concentrate on the marvelous machines for which the musical is celebrated...
...Yet, the women in the mink are part of the show...
...There are indicators in the show to remind us that there are such things in the world as indifference, greed, and poverty, but they have a way of being swallowed up by the feistiness of Gavroche, the Peck's Bad Boy of the Revolution, or the comic nastiness of The'nardier...
...Jean Valjean is at the center, flanked by Cosette's mother and Eponine, who so loved Marius...
...STAGE COMPANY LOVES MISERY NUNN & CAIRD'S 'LES MISE'RABLES' At the end of Lev Mise'rables, Cosette and Marius, the juvenile leads, crouch center stage, offering each other love and comfort, while the dead mass behind them sing their no-longer-beating hearts out...
...All successful plays these days spin-off souvenirs as though Broadway were Saturday-morning children's TV, which it is in a way...
...The unpleasantness in the musical comes for the most part from ordinary people and is aimed at ordinary people less miserable ones picking on more miser, able ones but there is presumably an oppressive force f)tfj there grinding the people underfoot, whose only representatiw on stage is Javert...
...We are allowed to cry if we want to (I saw no tears in the theater), but the musical moment is not about death...
...I exaggerate...
...all of those who died on the barricades are stretched across the stage...
...Still, when Valjean sings over the dying Fantine or Marius over the dying Eponine, we are expected to admire the theatrical image...
...Although Colm Wilkinson, who is in fine voice as Jean Valjean, gets his share of applause, the strongest outburst of audience enthusiasm was saved for the moment when the two halves of the barricade met center stage, kissed and joined to form a single set, up which the rebels could clamber and on which they could die...
...my work on James Whitcomb Riley has taught me that it is an effective element in popular poetry...
...The latter is played by Leo Burmester with the villainous vigor of his diabolical General D from last Fail's short-|iVe<j Raggedy Ann, a failed sentimental fantasy that is much closer in spirit to the triumphant new French-English import than the creators of Les Mise'rables would probably like to think...
...Slaughfll in this instance is a highly choreographed series of falls, rolfis and somersaults as, one after another, the participants tunsM into place...
...GERALD WEALES 24 April 1987: 247...
...Much has been written recently about the technology available to stage designers, the triumph of the computer, but these monumental theatrical devices like the special effects in the sci-fi and fantasy films so popular today _¦ are not in the service of idea or emotion or dramatic event...
...There is no pain and suffering and revolutionary sacrifice in Les Mise'rables...
...It is a consumer-oriented show designed to make the ugly palatable...
...The idealistic students sing their alliaM§ with the people and then take to the barricades where they aM their followers among the citizens are slaughtered except course, for Marius who is saved for the final curtain...
...I did admire the efficiency of the machines and the talent of many of the performers, but I left the theater not only unmoved but afraid that I would find sidewalk hawkers among the stretch limos selling African-famine dolls...

Vol. 114 • April 1987 • No. 8


 
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