Monday, November 17, 2014

Les Miserables: the show, the exhibition, and the State Library VIC

Why IS Les so miserable?
And so the old joke goes...
As a literature lover and a Francophile, of course I knew Les Miserables and Victor Hugo. But I had never read the actual book or seen the stage show. I don't know why, I just hadn't.
Then a few years back I saw the Anne Hathaway/Hugh Jackman film and fell in love...completely.
I knew all the songs, but never matched them to Les Mis. I knew the story, but didn't really know the full story. I sobbed pretty much the whole way through it, not the silent, quiet type of sobbing, but the blubbery, noise making, embarrassing sobbing...I was by myself and near no one in the cinema!
And so Les Miserables came back to Melbourne, along with an exhibition of the story at the VIC State Library and I had to go.

The exhibition had the original book, in Hugo's messy French handwriting, but that had gone back to France and replaced but a digital version. And on my second day in Melbourne, the exhibit had it's last day and off I went.
I think the State Library of VIC is my favourite library, it's a beautiful old building, with a stunning reading room under a magnificent dome. It holds many amazing exhibits.

The first section of the exhibit was a range of items from France, old copies of the story, other writings and papers of Hugo, paintings and etchings of Paris at that time, bits of memorabilia. Quite an exhibition, then it moved into the movies and music from the book, posters, costumes and so forth, again remarkable.
The second section was a large area which was enhanced by the stunning architecture of the Library itself, a stage, large props, costumes, dressing rooms, music, and on and on it went. It was a remarkable space.

I then had a wander around the library, as I have done many times before. Having a look at the dome, reading room, and the 'book' display around the first floor of the dome. Some items never change, other bits do, it shows the evolution of books and parts of the extraordinary collection held there. There was a lovely section dedicated to Helen Garner this time, including her first typewriter.

The outside edifice was undergoing some type of construction, but the front gardens were full of students relaxing and enjoying themselves as always.
Later on that week I headed to Her Majesty's Theatre to see the staged musical. I had spectacular seats, front row middle in the Grand Circle (Third tier), however, I had not thought of the drop down to the stage and my vertigo set in a little. But I managed ok, the show was brilliant, so I didn't have much time to think about falling over the edge, lol!

I managed to keep myself composed through the first half, eyes wet, but not bubbling over. The set design was perfect and effortless. The cast amazing and the music sublime.
The story, Dickensian in style, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, is dramatic and unrelenting in it's misery. It's a devastating show to watch, but stunning in the strength of the characters, and sublime in the haunting tunes that form the musical itself.
The two male leads, Jean Valjean (our hero) and Javert (the man intent on destroying him) were superb, although at times I thought their singing was not right on track. The tragic Fantine was a little weak, although her showstopper, I dreamed a dream, was heartfelt and inspired.
The trio of Cosette (Fantine's daughter), Marius (the man who loves her), and Eponine (the girl who loves Marius) were excellent, with Eponine being the stand out. Though I might be biased, she is my favourite character. Gutsy, romantic, and gets what I believe is THE showstopper, On my own. She owns the beginning of Act 2, and had me in tears at her magnificent performance.
And rounding out the main players are the comic relief of The Thenardiers - they were outrageously fabulous, mean and nasty, funny and bawdy. I do love Master of the House, it makes me smile so, and much needed comic relief in such a dire story.
The set design was bleak, but strong, with some great visual effects that help depict scenes, in particular the sewers and Javert's plummet from the bridge.
But ultimately Les Miserables is about the music, and it was divine. Every song a star, every song a friend. I am so pleased to have finally been able to see it.
Now I guess I need to read the book!

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