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JACK WEATHERLY — ‘Les Miz’ stays on the high road

JACK WEATHERLY

Would current events highjack the musical stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel “Les Miserables”?

There are parallels, however thin, which is about all it takes these days to make a case.

After all, in the Trump era, however long that may be, there is the “resistance” that has consumed much of the country, fanned by investigations and more investigations.

Never was a president so disliked. At least not in my lifetime, and that includes Nixon.

But true art transcends politics.

Certainly that is the case in the Broadway touring company staging of the play that has been a perennial success since its English-language debut in 1985 in London and a U.S, national tour starting in 2009. It ended a six-day run at Thalia Mara Hall with a Sunday matinee and a roaring, appreciative crowd.

It has been given a “new” old look with the sturdy and realistic three-dimensional sets (suitable for climbing), and scenery that benefits from astounding technology applied to Hugo’s impressive sketches that lend themselves to a fresh look, at the same time reflecting the first method of photography, daguerreotype, a French invention.

Still, it seems that everything has a political subtext these days.

But art, in this case, does not imitate life, it interprets it — because it is true art, not propaganda.

The book was born in the era of deep Romanticism, where beauty was truth (apologies to Keats) and vice versa.

Catholicism was a bulwark of Hugo’s world. Even today, in our increasingly secularized western world, the unmitigated core message of the Church is still central to this version of this work.

Such as in the aching prayer, “Bring Him Home,” sung by Christopher Viljoen as Jean Valjean.

And Valjean on the horns of a life-or-death moral dilemma, “Who Am I?”

Hugo’s monumental novel, published in 1862, was not a naive creation, which so much cheap romanticism is these days.

Harsh reality is the message starting with the title – translated as The Miserable Ones.

Poverty and powerlessness has brought Paris to yet another attempt at, in 1832, a revolution, something that the Gauls have never really got their full money’s worth from, starting with the first and followed by others.

America has till now put down uprisings (including the Civil War) and come out the better for it, or at least none the worse.

The French, not so much. Starting with the overthrow of the monarchy in the last decade of the 18th century, followed by the Reign of Terror.

The French to this day celebrate Bastille Day, knowing what happened afterward, including the Napoleonic era. And as recent(!) as 1968, President Charles de Gaul fled the country briefly in the face of broad labor and student protests.

But even in America, there have been recent whispers in the Capital about a coup d’etat, fueled by a gross misreading of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows for removal of a president who has been incapacitated.

This same turn of mind has sought to undermine the 1st and 14th Amendments, free speech, and protection under law, respectively.

Revolution indeed. How French of us.

The Parisian student rebellion of 1832 was put down. But under the hand of Hugo – as it was said by another poet (Yeats) in another part of Europe in another era – a terrible beauty was born.

And the 25 pieces in the play – music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer – sing of that blood-stained beauty.

And at the end of the day, unlike the wretched factory workers who sing that lament, huge moving vans were queing up to move the show to the next stop on the tour, the next chance for theatergoers to take in this timeless show.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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About Jack Weatherly