montagnarde1793: (sans-culottes)
[personal profile] montagnarde1793
So one of the things I decided to do to celebrate the 14 juillet (joyeux 14 juillet, d'ailleurs) was to see 25th anniversary production of "Les misérables" (the musical, obviously). And first, I really need to get this out of the way: it really is impossible to go back to the English version once you know the French versions. This obviously wasn't the production's fault, but both French versions (though especially the original concept album) far superior in terms of context, poetry, faithfulness to the spirit of the book, and so on.

Now to get the ideal version you would still need to mix and match between the French versions and there are still things from the book that could stand to be added. There are also places where the musical makes no sense in any language. Take, for example, the scene where Javert intercepts Jean Valjean coming out of the sewers with Marius. In both the English and revised French versions, Javert lets Jean Valjean go with Marius, we are led to assume, because, as Valjean says, Marius is "innocent." But in Javert's eyes, he's not; he was fighting on the barricade and Javert knows this. That's why he only lets him go in the book because he thinks he's dying.

I guess this kind of thing is nitpicky, but here's where we get into this new production in particular. It seems to me that if you haven't read the novel and have a limited knowledge of French history, you would find a lot of the musical confusing. This is to be expected, this is complicated, if somewhat watered down stuff. However, it seems to me that lines like the one I mentioned only further confuse audiences.

Even worse, in the new production, tricolor and republican motifs were present in places representing the establishment in scenes supposed to be taking place in 1823: Javert had a tricolor cockade on his hat, the tribunal in Arras was backgrounded with tricolor and the word "égalité" alongside of that of "justice." And, I don't know, maybe that's the kind of thing people wouldn't notice. And maybe it would have made it difficult to explain that the monarchy in power in 1823 is not the same one the 1832 insurrection is fighting and that the July Monarchy did make use of the tricolor. But there was no sense really that the revolutionaries are attempting to overthrow a monarchy in favor of a republic. I get the impression that just from watching the musical on its own, especially in this incarnation, one wouldn't really have a clear idea of what the insurrection was about. Epecially given the quick transitions that made "Do You Hear the People Sing?" rather anticlimactic (of course, part of that could just be for me that part of me was disappointed taht they weren't singing "À la volonté du peuple", so read into that what you will).

But enough whinging (Im not even going to discuss the singing, which was somewhat uneven...). Here's what did work: the new sets and costumes really do work to fill in the libretto's gaps in historical and geographical context. With the exception of the inappropriate tricolor cockade on Javert's hat in 1823, the clothes look like the clothes of the era. (Though they eventually keep Enjolras in that ridiculous vest - I guess because they think the audience might not recognize him otherwise...? And while we're on the subject. The Enjolras isn't blond, which I don't mind so much, but he has this really bizarre white streak in his hair. I don't know if that was just some thing the actor was doing or whether they wanted to make Enjolras look middle-aged instead of 22, but it really does not work.) The sets resemble what they ought to resemble - Paris looks vaguely like Paris, Montreuil-sur-mer actually has a port, and so on.

All in all, for what it was, it was done well and the changes - including slight lyrics changes in places (Enjolras no longer tells everyone to stay awake) - were generally for the better, but I really need to see it in French.

One last thing though: I can't remember, has Grantaire always been played as being especially attached to Gavroche? They're always hanging out together in all the barricade scenes and Grantaire gives this big cry of despair when Gavroche is shot. There were definitely people in the audience I saw it with who assumed that Gavroche was Grantaire's son (wouldn't that be a weird alternative universe), not Thénardier's.

Also, wow, this is crazy, I still don't have a Les misérables icon.

(no subject)

Date: Monday, 16 July 2012 12:45 (UTC)
thepussyfootingtyrant: Robespierre looking mildly amused. (Amused)
From: [personal profile] thepussyfootingtyrant
Oh, yay, finally someone else who objects to Javert's little tricolor cockade and the lack of general information about what the Amis are overthrowing and everything.

And I'm really not sure how much people who see it without context understand it, or if they just enjoy it for being flashy and impressive.

I think I'm the only one who loves Enjolras's terrible vest. ;-; It's just so sparkly and amazing.

And most of the shows I've seen have R being attached to him. The various actors have played it to different degrees of severity, but it's always there in some capacity?

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