Lots of families have holiday traditions. My family has two very specific traditions:
- We always go and see a movie on Christmas Day and this year we saw Les Miserables!!!!
- We spend the majority of our time together over the holidays retelling old, family stories that we have all heard 20 times before.
So, I have decided to combine those two traditions for my very special holiday post. (And if I’m being completely honest I was also inspired by this very funny blog)
Of course, my family went to see Les Miserables which we have loved for as long as I can remember. And it just so happens one of my favorite family stories is about this same musical.
I don’t remember when I first heard the Les Mis soundtrack – probably on some family road trip when my parents insisted taking a break from backseat bickering and put in the cassette tape (yes, cassette tape) giving birth to a family obsession. My sisters and I loved the music even without having seen the show (it wasn’t until I was 18 that I saw it live onstage). And when the cd came out, we had the nifty jacket with every character’s lyrics printed there!
It was this very cd jacket that most likely inspired the Les Mis Project of 1999. It was most likely summertime (because only in the summer do boredom and spare time bring sisters together for a project of this magnitude).
Genie, the middle sister, came up with the idea: performing our own version of Les Mis in the living room. Of course I was on board because this idea was a stroke of genius. Because the musical has approximately one billion characters, we knew we would need some help. So we convinced Mary Pat, the youngest and 9 years old at the time, to be involved in our project as well. A two-person version of Les Mis was ridiculous, but a three-person version was totally reasonable.
Casting was tricky. Genie and I wanted all the best roles (duh!) but Mary Pat didn’t know very many lyrics and I was the tallest. So it was decided that I would play Valjean and Genie would take on Javert. This meant Mary Pat had to be Fantine since all three of them appeared in a scene together. At first, Genie and I were very upset (Fantine is awesome and gets a really badass song), but soon we realized that Fantine is dead for most of the play so we were ok with Mary Pat taking on that part. After all, the longer the character was dead, the fewer lines she had to speak. Even at 13 I was aware that Eponine is clearly the very best role in the entire show, but I sacrificed and allowed Genie to play the part while I played Marius (cause the boy just has to be taller than the boy!).
Shortly into our rehearsal period, we realized that doing the entire soundtrack was just way too crazy (again, but three-person version of the most epic musical ever is TOTALLY reasonable). We decided to cut down the length of many of the songs and skipped a few altogether (no way we were going to sing Lovely Ladies in front of my dad – that would be way too embarrassing). To make the transitions smooth and since we couldn’t spare anyone to control the cd player, we recorded the songs we intended to use from the cd onto a cassette tape. How resourceful were we?
Now the casting is done and we have our abridged Les Mis tape. Time for the real rehearsing. This was not going to be a silly concert version where we sing along to the cd, oh no! We added dialogue (to make the story more clear), staging, costume changes, and even our own version of the barricade. (Keep in mind we had never seen the show before!) It became very clear that Mary Pat was going to be a problem. We gave her the smallest parts possible which included Fantine, Gavroche, and Cosette (and I’m pretty sure we cut almost all of Cosette’s songs,) but she could not remember her words to save her life! Even though she was only 9, this was completely unacceptable. But we didn’t give up! In the end, we let Mary Pat hold the cd jacket cover with all of the lyrics for her larger solos. Although Genie and I recognized that this compromised the integrity of our production, we had no choice but to go on with show.
Finally, we were ready to perform. (I don’t remember exactly how long we spent rehearsing – maybe two afternoons total.) Our parents sat on the couch in the living room. I gotta hand it to my parents, they sat and actively watched the WHOLE ENTIRE THING. Although Fantine could’ve used more practice, the Confrontation scene was superb. Critics especially applauded our rendition of One Day More when I performed many quick changes from Valjean to almost everyone else. We reached the finale after an unplanned intermission before Little Fall of Rain because I had just to pee and it COULD NOT WAIT.
Our barricade looked just like this, except only three little girls joined our revolution.
“Do you hear the people sing,” we sang in unison with the cd. I am not sure what character we were each portraying at this moment, but it didn’t matter. We had finished. The broadway actors on our soundtrack sang louder, and we followed. Did Mary Pat know all these words? Probably not, but again it didn’t matter. We were masters of the stage, or at least of our living room. We marched in place, sang the last line, and lifted our arms triumphantly in the air. Ta da!!!
Ok, I know that parents have to applaud and tell you that you are wonderful, but my parents’ reaction was so much more than that! I’m pretty sure our dad cried – no joke – and our mom told us it was the most wonderful thing she had ever seen. My sisters and I were on a post-performance high for probably an hour, and then fought over who had to clean up the set and costumes that had exploded all over the living room. But even a fight could not extinguish our joy. We had attempted the impossible, and we succeeded. We also confirmed any doubts held that we were the nerdiest and most dramatic children ever born.