Andy and I recently saw the touring production of Les Miserables, which is one of his favorite musicals. A few years ago when he was traveling overseas a lot for business, he would often play the Hugh Jackman movie version — or even just that soundtrack — in the background while doing work on his laptop. Thank you, Delta in-flight entertainment.

I love Les Mis too, in part because I grew up listening to it at my best friend Alex’s house. We would play the Original Broadway Recording on CD, as a lullaby when going to bed, or sometimes as an accompaniment to our make-believe games.

“On My Own,” sung by the character Eponine, holds a special place in my heart, and is possibly the ultimate ballad about unrequited love. I remember singing it to myself often during middle school. My locker was right next to my crush’s, thanks to alphabetized assignments. Hopefully he never heard me humming it under my breath.

As with everything these days, I watched Les Mis through a new lens this time. Now being a parent, I identified so strongly with Valjean’s love for Cosette, his desire to do what would make her happy, even if it put him in danger, or took her away from him.

I also found myself noticing and appreciating new things, like how the same two or three riffs dominate the music, coming in and out, like themes weaving through the story. And in fact, the songs do parallel the way that the plot winds back on itself at times, with all its “twists,” the characters crossing paths with each other in so many different iterations. These “coincidences” could feel melodramatic, like a bad soap opera, but they don’t, because the story is grounded in history, social commentary, and emotional truth.

Also a musical, but completely opposite in tone, is the new TV series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. It’s kind of like a grown-up Glee. (Or at least, the first couple seasons of Glee, which were great. I stopped watching after that.) The main actress, Jane Levy, is remarkably charming, and the supporting cast is solid too. As you can probably tell from the bright colors, it’s an overall upbeat show, but there’s a streak of somberness — primarily in the storyline about Zoey’s dad — that adds unexpected depth. Exactly what I seek in my entertainment these days: optimism and heart.

Only four episodes have aired so far, but I find myself eagerly awaiting more.

2 responses to “Two very different musicals”

  1. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    I’m a big Les Misérables nerd. I’ve seen it on Broadway three times (the first time when the original run was closing — as a gift to my then-girlfriend, who was a Les Mis fanatic — again when the new version opened, and then again the week after my mother died). When my mother was alive we watched the movie version together on DVD and, of all the movies we watched together, it was the only one where she was speechless for a few minutes at the end.

    One New Year’s Eve a few years ago, I was puttering around my apartment, including doing stuff on my blog, and watching Les Mis in the background, and then, after the final notes of the ending, I could hear the New Year’s fireworks out my window. I didn’t time the movie to end at midnight — it just happened that way.

    I always have at least two versions on my phone (10th Anniversary and 25th Anniversary). I’ve written about it on my blog a few times, including this one (which happens to link to a blog post of yours :-) ):

    1. Kristan Avatar

      How lovely! I think it must be very special to have those kinds of connections to a single story. (And hah, what a fun rabbit hole to go down, from here, to your old post, to Julia’s post and mine.) Empathy, indeed. It’s what Hugo and Les Mis were all about.