We saw Les Miserables once again during the past week, and I can still hear the people sing the moving inspirational triumphant anthem that closes the show!
For me, musical theatre is one of the Wonders of the Western World, each performance magically creating a universe of its own, lasting for that brief period beginning with the overture and ending with the curtain call, then dwelling within my memory and implanted in my soul forever.
Although next season may include an exception to the usual rule, Darke County Center for the Arts has presented precious few musical theatre productions during its 41-year existence, not because the medium lacks value, but for the exact opposite reason: musical theatre is incredibly expensive to produce. Bluntly put, DCCA simply cannot afford to pay the price to secure most professional traveling productions.
Additionally, the stage and wings at magnificent Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall are usually insufficient to house the sets, props, and other necessities required for creation of the believable imaginary world of most musicals.
On past occasions when DCCA has booked that rare show that fits within its budget and on the Memorial Hall stage, two semi truckloads of necessary stuff plus a bus full of talented cast members will arrive at the loading dock—and at least half of that stuff essential to creating the magical world of theatre will remain on the truck, never to be seen by the local audience which is short-changed by that lack.
However, all of those essentials were magnificently present for Les Miserables at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Theater. The sparse but effective sets whisking the audience back in time to 1832 Paris were enhanced by projected backdrops based on paintings done by the author of the historic novel himself, Victor Hugo. Incredible lighting effects punctuated the action on stage, with shimmering shafts of light illuminating and lingering over awe-inspiring memorable moments. The acting was excellent and the voices were amazing as the timeless tale unfolded for yet another enthralled audience.
“Les miserables” can be translated as “the dispossessed” or “the outsiders;” the tale transcends time and place, to present a universal story that people across the centuries and the globe find meaningful. The narrative begins with Jean Valjean being released on parole after 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread; after encountering an act of kindness and mercy, Valjean starts life anew demonstrating compassion for people in need including the orphan Cosette, who he takes in to raise. Throughout the action, Valjean is pursued by the righteous police inspector Javert. Poverty, injustice, faith, and redemption are all addressed in the ensuing action, with the dialogue being sung rather than spoken.
Many factors contribute to the lasting power of Les Miserables, the most effective for me being the music which evokes emotions and provides underlying understanding to every line even if you don’t catch all the words. The most powerful songs are Javert’s “Stars,” in which he swears by the stars to assert his righteousness, Valjean’s “Bring Him Home,” pleading to God to spare the life of Cosette’s beloved, “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” revealing the sad aftermath of battle, and the grand finale, the aforementioned “Do You Hear the People Sing,” which goes on to declare itself “the music of a people who are climbing to the light,” and proclaiming “It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!” I hear the song still, and feel the power of the people communicated through that music. Yes, I hear the people sing, and I am empowered by it; thus is the power of the arts, the transcendent power of theatre!
While I can revel in the glorious memory, Les Miserables will sadly not be coming to St. Clair Memorial Hall; however, I can happily anticipate the strong possibility that a professional musical theatre presentation will delight, entertain, and inspire local lives during DCCA’s 2020-2021 season. Enticed? Stay tuned.
Marilyn Delk is a director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.