I grew up listening to the musical Les Miserables. My mom had majored in French in college, which led her to study and subsequently fall in love with the book by Victor Hugo. Much later, when the musical production made its way around the country and through my hometown, my mom and dad excitedly purchased tickets and attended. They returned telling us kids that it was one of the most magical things they'd ever seen.
I think that's when the cassette tapes for the musical made it into the regular music rotation in our family. It was played repeatedly on every single family road trip that we took, with my mom vividly telling us of the powerful scenes behind each song and the backgrounds on each character so we could better understand the context of the music and the power of the underlying message.
When the musical came through my town for a second time my mom decided it was important for us kids to go see it. I was very young, there was still plenty I didn't understand, but I LOVED it as I listened to the music I now knew so well and as I saw my mom's descriptions come to life on the stage. It was truly beautiful.
In college, my longtime fascination with Les Miserable made it so the book found its way into my must-read list, and so during my summer internship in Boston, I made my way to a Harvard bookstore and found a copy. It didn't take me long to devour the book, and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorites (you can read of its near universal praise and buy it here). It's difficult to think of another book that has moved me like this.
The summer after Mara and I married, we backpacked through Europe for 5 weeks. One of my favorite memories from our time there came when we were in Paris. It was a Sunday morning, a day when Mara and I usually find ourselves in church. But with a tight schedule, we ended up planning a day to Versailles instead, with the desire that the day could somehow still take on some spiritual significance for us. On our way to the train, I looked through my iPhone to see if there was anything genuinely uplifting that we could listen to. The second my eyes came across the musical, I knew it was perfect. And so for the next 45 minutes we sat on a train, listening to songs of mercy, songs of love, songs of courage, songs of hope, songs of sacrifice, songs of pain, songs of redemption and the beauty of life, even in the face of life's darkest moments. And we cried. And we smiled. And we held hands and thought how, in the smallest of ways, the music and the story represents some of our own journey, and most likely the journey of all of us. That was one of my favorite days in Europe.
All these thoughts came to my mind this week when I saw an ad displayed for the new Les Miserables movie/musical being released this Christmas (see article here in the Huffington Post). For a moment my heart fell just a little bit. I worried that they wouldn't be able to do it justice, that although movie musicals can be wonderful, I've never liked them as much as the real thing.
I followed the link to the trailer to see if my fears would be put to rest. I watched it once with headphones on. Half way through I was already telling Mara she needed to come over and see this. When she was at my side, I replayed it for us both and felt the stirrings of every good memory I've ever had related to this story. This little clip has been on repeat the last few days...Mara plays it once or twice an hour because it is so moving, so powerful, and in some ways haunting. Anne Hathaway sings a song I've known for years with such conviction that it makes me rethink it entirely and hear new meaning in familiar words and melodies. I quickly searched to see if there was anything else I could listen to and found an extended first look that put all my fears to rest. Unlike other movie/musicals, all actors are singing every take live instead of singing to prerecorded songs...allowing them to act and sing with greater power and conviction. It doesn't hurt that this is being done by Tom Hooper, who did The King's Speech, which we absolutely loved!
I couldn't be more excited. Take a look, below, at the extended preview and see for yourself.
Les Miserables comes out Christmas Day 2012!
What about you? Do you have any memories tied to this great work of classical literature or to one of the greatest musicals of all time? Do you remember what it felt like when you read it or saw it for the first time? Do you have a favorite song or are there lyrics that have stuck with you? Did you get chills watching the clips below? We'd love to hear your thoughts.