Friday, June 1, 2012

somewhere beyond the barricades.

Listening to: Sam's Town by The Killers
Line Obsession: Stories are the wildest thing of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt. - from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

"Love has no middle term; either it destroys or it saves." - Les Miserables

I'm bumping my very important blog about celebrity-look-a-likes so we can talk about Les Miserables. And other things. Savvy?

I'll start here: 

Many years ago, I spent a summer month in London taking a Shakespeare class. As much as I've written about that experience, you'd think I stayed there a year. But I didn't. I only stayed a month, but one month can resonate so hard when you really, truly live it. I lived up every fiber of every second of that experience. For reasons I still can't articulate, the London Summer changed how I filtered everything. London was not the sort of city that gently ushered me in. It didn't coddle or console or give me time to adjust. London hurled me into the deep. From the moment I got there, I was caught in the tension between sink and swim.

I'll never forget a late night toward the end of my stay: I was on the tube, on my way back to my flat. None of my friends were with me. This was quite an accomplishment. When I first got to London, I'd been afraid to go anywhere by myself, but that's another story. Riding the train alone may not seem like a big victory, but it was for me. That night, I rode alone. As the train rambled on, I noticed the reflection of a woman in the window. I tried to glance at her without staring too much. Just from her reflection though, she seemed like the kind of person I wanted so badly to become. She looked London-cool; messy hair, fitted trench coat, bag slung around her shoulders. She was leaning against the center pole, easily. When the train stopped suddenly, she wouldn't fall, because she had her feet planted. But she wasn't clutching anything either; she wasn't afraid or nervous. She had high cheekbones and the shadow of a smile on her face. She looked so confident, so steady, like she was settled in for the ride of a lifetime. An amazing lifetime. Her lifetime. She was living up every fiber of every second of that life.

It took approximately ten more seconds of staring before I realized I was looking at myself. I know that sounds dumb. I'm positive I've never seen myself that way again. But for those few glorious minutes, I saw something about myself that I hadn't seen before.

In the rush of the night train, London had whispered the wildest possibility in my ear: what if you are the girl you've always wanted to be? 

You were afraid to come here alone, but you came.

You were afraid to ride this by yourself, but you did it.

What if you are capable of more than you ever imagined?

There are loads of reasons you should go to London someday (or go back, maybe :), but the reason I most want you to go there, or anywhere that's calling out to you, or any place that you're afraid of going (but so desperately want to go) is because I so-bad want you to have a moment like that. Not lots of moments like that; but one. Looking at yourself for too long will never, ever result in anything worthwhile. Self-loathing and conceit are two sides of the same coin, I think. Spend your time looking at the world around you; study it and love it and let it unnerve you a little bit. But catch a glimpse of yourself too, especially just before you leave wherever it is you've been. You might be surprised at the girl (or beastly) looking back at you.

I don't think a change of place always changes the person. Maybe it will. That's fine if it does. But I think the best thing that comes with a change of place is when it helps me peel away all the fake and the fear and finally see all the potential inside me. That's a wonderful day when you realize that you're capable of so much more than you thought.

When you start to wonder if, dagnabit, it's time to just be what you've been becoming.

Everybody needs a place like that, whether it's 10,000 miles away or only 10 paces.

Everybody has a place like that out there somewhere, a Sam's Town; a city that gets caught-up in you. You'll feel it someday, if you haven't already. Someday, there's a place that will draw you like a magnet. You'll daydream about it. You'll read about it. You'll collect pictures and photographs and you'll convince yourself it can't possibly be as amazing as you're imagining. But then you'll step off the plane (or out your back door :) and you'll see that it isn't as amazing; it's better. Because it's real. Because it's your story then. Even when you leave that place, it won't leave you.

London was like that for me.

I took a Shakespeare class while I was in London. That probably seems cliche, but I figured there was no better place for such an undertaking. Usually, at night, my class would meet up at plays all over the city: at The Globe, in Regent's Park, in some seedy warehouse on a tube stop in The Twilight Zone. During the day, we'd meet up at the college or at a pub and discuss what we'd been reading and what we'd seen the night before. Sometimes we read the plays aloud, volleying lines back and forth to each other with all the animosity and longing a bunch of sleep-deprived college students could muster.

Theater, like language, is a whole different experience when you learn by full-immersion.

Ever the planner, I'd saved up for months in advance so I could see other plays too. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I'm a serious theater nerd. Drama actually helped me break out of my shy-shell just an itty-bitty bit. I'm not very good at acting; but I loved it. (I actually think acting and writing fiction feel a little bit similar; because you're "in character" in both cases, maybe?) Not having any acting savvy hasn't lessened my love for theater at all. I'm beyond grateful every time I get to take in a play; the fact that I get to be part of that magic in any way at all blows my mind. So when I went to London, I wanted to see as many plays as I could afford. (I was a college student ... so that still wasn't many ;)

On nights I didn't attend plays for class, I'd run to Leicester Square to find cheap theater tickets for musicals on the West End. I'd promised my mom that I would see Les Miserables first, so that's the very first ticket I bought.

As you probably know, when it comes to cheap tickets, seating is a real Bingo game of possibilities. Sometimes the seats are amazing. Sometimes they are high up in the heavens with a .005% view of the stage. Luckily, my seat for Les Miserables was perfect. The theater was huge, dark, and crowded. I had no idea what to expect when as the lights dimmed down.

That's such a magical moment in a theater, isn't it? *shivers*

Les Miserables. 

I was mesmerized.

Even for a girl who loves theater, Les Miserables defied all logic. The music was so loud, so powerful, that I could feel it vibrating inside my chest. Maybe that's what makes the story so special too; you feel the words. You don't just hear them. The play was dark, sad, and wonderful. Les Miserables is a story of depravity, morality, revolution, redemption and faith. Does God care? Why does He see suffering and not stop it? And what happens when two people pray to the same God, both claim they're trying to live for His glory ... and yet one becomes a sworn enemy of the other?

Has war always been romanticized?

Have guys always overlooked the girl-next-door for the rich and flouncy Cosette-behind-the-gate?

Les Miserables is a love story. It's a war story. It's sickening. It's inspiring. Because I'm a tremendous theater nerd, I tend to have a very visceral reaction to plays. So of course I cried. At the end, I stood and applauded so hard that my hands prickled. I was trembling as I walked out of the theater.

I left, but the music stayed with me. That night, I had the lights of London and rainy streets and a song-memory that I knew I'd keep forever. As soon as I got off at my stop, I ran to the Internet cafe and emailed my mom and I told her that Les Miserables was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. It still is.

This is my favorite line:

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

So when I heard a new film adaptation was coming this December, I was thrilled. I finally saw the trailer for the film ... and whoa nelly it's everything I hoped it would be. I love the casting. I love the tone of it. I love Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, and Anne Hathaway in this. I thought I'd get a little snooty about my beloved #24601, like who can possibly throw-down with Alfie Boe's Jean Valjean? Or Colm Wilkinson's? Have you heard Gary Morris sing "Bring Him Home"? He's incredible. I'd forgotten how much I love Hugh Jackman though, in everything. He's so versatile and talented, isn't he? I can't believe I ever doubted.

I'm particularly wild about this casting for Marius. I don't remember when I first saw Eddie Redmayne, but most recently I watched him in My Week with Marilyn. He stole the movie. Have you seen this guy? I'm sure you have because 1.) he's a doll and 2.) he's very talented. I'm crazy about his face; so many emotions flicker in his eyes and across his features. He can look so boyish and still so handsome. A little bit guy-next-door and still very aristocratic. I like him a bunch. (And, gah, have you heard him talk? His voice is wonderful.) (Why can't I have a British accent?)

Let's watch the teaser together, shall we?  :)

I've seen it probably forty-seven times now, but it still makes me hyperventilate. That part where Anne Hathaway is singing and she's choking out the lyrics? Amazing.

So anyway. I love Les Miserables because of the story, but I also love Les Miserables because of the place in my life it bookmarked.

It was ten years ago when I went to London. That summer was a Jubilee Summer too, just like this one will be. I ran through the rain. I sang "Hey Jude" in Hyde Park with a million other people. I cheered on England in the World Cup. I sat on a balcony over Cromwell Street and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

I was afraid. I was fearless. And at the very end of it all, I didn't recognize the girl in the mirror. I didn't recognize her, but I liked her. I liked her a lot.

If you get a chance to see Les Miserables in a theater, do it.

And if there's a world you long to see, go see it.

Do you love Les Miserables too? Are you a theater-nerd like me? Do you remember the first play that stole your heart? Do you have a favorite? I really, really love Wicked too. Les Miserables is special in a different way though. Will you geek out with me and talk musical theater down in the comments? :)


  1. I want to go to London more than I want anything else in the world. Someday I will go and I know that it will be even more magnificent that I could ever imagine. Awesome post, Natalie.

  2. I have heard so much about Les Miserables, but I really don't know much at all about it. I even have the book but haven't read it yet (it's in two volumes...that's slightly intimidating to me!).

    I love musical films (obsession might be a better word), but I don't know an awful about musical theater. I went through a real Phantom of the Opera phase when I was a teenager. :) I've seen several local theater productions, though, and I always enjoy them. A couple of summers ago, kids in a nearby town put on a production of Annie, and it was glorious. I sat there, sweating because it was so hot (it was in a covered outdoor pavilion) but not even noticing because I was so absorbed in the story and dozens of adorable kids singing their hearts out. I came home with half of the songs stuck in my head and promptly downloaded one of the Broadway production albums from iTunes...I love those songs. :) Since then, I bought the 70s movie version and saw the newer adaptation, but none of them are as good as what I saw live, even though it wasn't a huge, expensive production.

    One of the items on my bucket list is to see a real Broadway musical, though.


  3. Les Mis is one of my favorites! Certain songs make me cry every time I hear them- whether at the musical, in the theater, or just listening to the song. I also love Phantom of the Opera and Wicked. It's hard to pick a favorite but those are my top three. Chicago had a great theater scene but I haven't had a chance to go to any shows in Nashville. Yet. It's on the list.

  4. Natalie. Oh my word, Natalie. I am...nope, I don't even think I can describe my feelings for musical theatre, but for Les Miserables specifically, it must be impossible. I got chills just reading this. It's basically the most beautiful and life-changing piece of fiction I've even come across--yes, I read the whole novel. And when I saw the musical last year--wow, I was in raptures. And in tears.
    The trailer looks like the movie is going to be everything it should be--I'm so happy/relieved at the fantastic casting and so so excited to hear more of the actors sing! I can't even count how many times I watched that trailer the first time it came out. All my friends mock me for how obsessed I am with this story (they claim it's only because of Hugh Jackman, but that's only an extra perk I say ;]). So, you'll be my friend, right?
    Wicked is also amazing. And, I'm going to London in a week. This makes me so very excited. Ahh, I'm so happy. I would write more because I could just ramble on about Les Mis for my whole life, but I have to go, and my sister is calling me, and...yeah. Long live Les Mis! (:

  5. I love reading about your summer in London! London is one of my favorite cities in the world and I'm always thinking about it :) Someday I'd love to live there. Not forever. Just long enough to feel like I live there and I'm not just another tourist.

    I've heard wonderful things about Les Mis but have never seen it! i saw Wicked in London last year for my birthday and loved it. So so good.

  6. Great post as usual, Natalie :) I love it when I see myself in a different way...though it doesn't happen all too often.
    I saw Les Mis once with my mom and sister last (?) year, but I had this awful cold that kept me from enjoying it as much as I could have, and the guys sitting in front of us were sharing a pair of binoculars and kept leaning back and forth...Yeah, I was NOT a happy camper. But I'm going to see the musical again this summer and recently bought the book on Kindle. Does anyone know if the book's as good as the musical is supposed to be?

  7. One of my favorite musicals is Phantom Tollbooth. Of course, being the Mathemagician makes me somewhat partial!

    I saw an musical review about the life of John Denver. It was beautiful!

  8. Wicked is undoubtedly my favorite as I just saw it recently (I took my mother for Mother's Day). I'd dreamed about seeing it for years and it defied all expectations. Les Miserables though is a whole new kind of wonderful. I just recently saw the 25th anniversary edition with my best friend and is was mah-velous. I am beyond stoked for this movie though. Mostly because Aaron Tveit will be playing Enjolras. Aaron Tveit is my favorite thing since forever and Enjolras has always been my favorite character in Les Miserables. Put the two together and I'll be lucky if my head doesn't explode.

  9. Oh myyy, you've seen Les Miz THAT many times?! I've only seen it once! ;) haha. And it was the touring 25th ann. cast. Awesome nonetheless. You are so, so lucky. Les Miz is the best thing ever!!! Glad to meet another fan!