As a teenager, Broadway musicals fascinated me. My first love – back in 1989 – was The Phantom of the Opera. What girl was not in love with either Raoul or the Phantom? As I mentioned in a previous blog post when the latest Twilight movie came out, some girls are enticed by the darkness of “bad boys.” I personally had a great fascination with the darkness of the Phantom. Unlike others, I actually read the book by Gaston Leroux. Also unlike others, I took the fiction book at face value and decided that it was historical…that was what the forward said!
Because of my family situation growing up (see “Adoption – My Fairytale“), I spent time each summer in Rhode Island – only three hours from New York City. Going to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in NYC was a huge dream. And the dream came true! For my sixteenth birthday, my parents gave me two tickets – one for me and one for my Auntie Toni (see comments of “What’s in a Name?“). It was an absolute blast! We spent the whole day getting hot and sweaty in the humidity of NYC in July. At the end of the day, we took in The Phantom. I did not want the night to end. It obviously did, and twenty-one years later I am still a fan!
The Phantom was like a gateway drug into the Broadway world. That introduction led to Cats, The Secret Garden, Man of La Mancha, and Into the Woods. And then came the mother of all musicals…the one that would surpass all others in depth and beauty…the one that would touch my heart and soul in a way that none other could – Les Miserables. Since marrying my huz, we have seen the musical together at least three times. It is truly that good. The best, hands down, was still the time – while we were poor and he was in seminary – that we saw it in New York City. Taking my farm boy to Broadway was a great treat!
Early this past summer, I heard a radio advertisement telling us that Les Miserables was coming to the Orpeum in Minneapolis – literally ten minutes from our house – right during the Christmas season! Well, it was sort of a no-brainer to the huz and me that this would make an excellent Christmas present, and, once we determined from whom, tickets were purchased and the date on the calendar saved by all. Yesterday was the day…we took in a matinee! That rhymed. We kept the kids out of school, and the huz and I took vacation days from work – on a Thursday. So fun! We had great seats (that is an inside family joke that I will explain sometime in a different blog post because it is a great story), and we enjoyed every minute of the musical.
The musical condenses Victor Hugo’s 513,000 word novel by the same name into three hours of intensity with only about eighteen minutes of comic relief. Chuck Colson’s explanation of the plot and themes is better than my attempt (literally the last twenty minutes) to summarize. I am horrible at summarizing.
The moral complexity of this story of an “honest thief” does not blur the distinction between good and evil. Instead, it gives us a very rich picture of the struggle between good and evil.
The redemption of ex-convict Jean Valjean plays itself out against the story of “the redemption of a nation.” The moral, philosophical, and military upheavals that France had experienced over the years serve as a fitting backdrop to this story of the upheavals in one man’s heart and soul.
Just released from prison, Valjean robs a bishop, only to have the bishop forgive him and make him a present of the silver that he stole. We see how this kindness, forgiveness, and “unconditional love” help heal Valjean’s soul.
And we see Valjean become a kind and loving man who in turn helps transform others, even while having to elude recapture by the fanatical policeman Javert. He helps the prostitute Fantine, showing her compassion when no one else will, and later adopts her destitute little girl after her death.
Valjean eventually rises to heroic levels of love and sacrifice, able to show astonishing mercy to his enemies as well as those he loves—a mercy so great that Javert cannot comprehend it, and suffers a breakdown. It is through loving others that Valjean shows his love for God, and truly becomes transformed and fulfilled.
Three hours of great theology with some of the best music ever written is my idea of a great afternoon. I wrote on my Facebook status that I would go again last night (remember, we had seen a matinee) if someone would have handed me tickets. One of the best parts about living in Minneapolis is that Broadway comes to me. What Colson doesn’t mention in the little diddy above is that, in addition to the Valjean/Javert storyline, there is a fun love triangle, a minor attempt at revolution (the Student’s Rebellion of Paris which preceded the French Revolution), and some scandalously entertaining scenes.
Although the cost of musicals might keep me from seeing this again and again as I would like to do, I can be thankful for the soundtrack. Whenever I need a little refresher course in the story of redemption through Christ allowing God’s grace, and mercy for everyone, all I need to do is hit repeat on my iPod and listen to the soundtrack of Les Miserables.