TBT: The Miserable

There's this little bird that has been chirping outside my writing room window for at least four or five days now. My apologies to those readers that live in my neighborhood, cause once you start to hear it, you can't un-hear it.

It starts every morning with these little single chirps.

Chirp . . . chirp . . . chirp.

And then it makes a succession of chirps like a really high pitched engine struggling to start up. At first it was a little annoying, and then I got kind of interested because . . . you know . . . nature is cool. I would go outside and sit quietly and see if I could hear some kind of far off response hoping to catch some kind of conversation.

But there hasn't been any response.

Nothing at all.

Just a single chirping bird, flying between two trees, endlessly calling out for a lover or a friend, and getting nothing in return.

It's depressing.

And speaking of depressing . . . today is the day back in 1987 that Les Miserable debuted on Broadway and began it's astronomical 4,000 performance run. I'm not saying that it's longevity is depressing, any theater company with that kind of stamina is a triumph in my book, but it's not what one would call a "Feel Good" piece of art.

Aside from the sad story line, Les Miserable ushered in this era of the EPIC stage musical. Massive sets, prerecorded orchestras, intensely amplified sounds, Pink Floyd inspired light shows, bigger, longer, uncut.

Now the way musicals had been presented in the past was with a few easily removable sets, that would be hidden by a painted backdrop, moved on and off while some sort of scene played out on the edge of the stage. That's how you would get from Annie's orphanage to Daddy Warbucks's Mansion and then out to the streets of Manhattan.

The Fosse era (god bless him) stripped a lot of that down, going for a more minimalist look with tighter tunes and all the sex that was missing from the Oscar & Hammerstein Universe.

Then shows got big again, because, you know, theater people.

Not a euphemism for gay necessarily, but definitely with a leaning flair for the dramatic.

Yet with so much attention payed to the bravado, the songs got really bland. Like blander than Disney bland. And with the running times going from 90 minutes to near fortnights, it seemed a lot easier to repeat themes over and over again, rather than making up a whole new melody.

Sondheim is obviously the exception, but entirely in the other direction. He doesn't repeat himself very often at all, which though brilliant, doesn't sell a lot of T-Shirts.

It's important to sell T-Shirts.

Anyway, it stayed like that for almost an entire generation. Shows like the Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Chess, I could go on and on and on, but I don't have to because they already did.

I remember telling my friends in the late 90's that musicals are going to be revolutionized soon and become fun again, quirky, less EPIC.  Had I been a New Yorker at the time I might have seen it first hand, but alas, that particular shipped has sailed.

There's so much more flavor now.

Thank goodness.

But getting back to bland . . . and I don't mean to pick on Les Miserable because a very dear friend of mine is an absolute fanatic when it comes to that show . . . but I've seen it performed on stage several times and was able to even get through the recent movie. Which I do not recommend.

My wife and I were in the movie theater and she leaned over and asked me if we were nearing the end.

My whispered response:

"We haven't even made it to the end of the first act."

Her response to that:


I honestly felt, and still do feel, that the movie would have been perfect if it had ended when (spoiler alert) Anne Hathaway dies.

Short, sad, and very little Russel Crowe. Who . . . by the way . . . actually has a very nice singing voice, but the songs were not in the right key for him and the direction of his scenes were criminally bad. Javert is a tricky role to pull off (Cause his songs suck) and I've never seen it done particularly well. It's a weak piece of material, and anyone attempting it has to know that.

But the underlaying problem is that if Javert is weak, then the whole story is trash. Can't have a hero without a decent bad-guy. You gotta do something about that.

No one is going to . . . because nobody takes my advice . . . chirp . . . but fix Javert and end the show with Fantine's death and you might have something.

Do a sequel if you're itching for Colette. Hell, make it a trilogy.

Get Peter Jackson to direct. He could make it into seven movies.

He can certainly sell T-Shirts.

And making those kinds of moves pays off.

Great story (Fosse again):

During the first production of Pippin, Bob Fosse was incredibly concerned that people were going to leave during intermission, so he cut it.

The original performance ran straight through to the end.

Anyone who mentioned that they might not be able to sell T-Shirts was likely to get bitch slapped by Bob himself. Stephen Schwartz, the creator, and the guy who would eventually write Wicked for the stage, left rehearsals more often than not, in tears.

So cool.

Fosse would have known what to do with Javert.

But alas, that is a thing we shall never see. So it will always be a weak Javert, a Peter Jacksonian running time, and the half bowl of wet porridge that is the second act.

I'll just be up in my tree.

Chirp chirp chirping away.

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