To the Barricades, Vol. 11

For those of us immersed in the world of Jean Valjean, Javert and the gang of Les Mis, the songs have become an underground river in our minds, always flowing, always changing.  We might be looking at you, engaging in conversation about something or other, but there is a strong likelihood that a soundtrack is quietly, unknowingly, playing in our heads.  As I woke up wondering what to write about, one phrase began repeating itself from "The Beggars" song in Act One: It'll come. It'll come. It'll come. It'll come. And it did.

I was in two days of meetings with the Premier's Council on Culture down in Edmonton on Friday and Saturday.  This is a group of leaders from various sectors who have been appointed by Premier Redford to work very closely with Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk and her team at Alberta Culture to come up with strategies and tactics that will strengthen arts and culture in the province, maybe even transform it.

Sitting in the Alberta Room on the third floor at Government House - the former residence of our Lieutenant Governor, turned boarding house for American pilots in the Second World War, turned convalescent home, now serving as a government conference centre - I was amazed how often "At the end of the day" was plopped onto the beginning of a thought.  And each time, the tune from the song that features the first appearance of the full chorus in Les Mis starts up, a Pavlovian response to a phrase that appears surprisingly often in conversation.

The words, phrases and music wash over the 49 of us who will be on stage when the public comes to see this show in just over three weeks, over and over again.  Many people, including some of the younger members of the ensemble, can be observed mouthing every word of even the most complicated of songs, especially the solo, duo and trio bits that are peppered through the piece, as they sit on the side of the rehearsal hall.  It can't be helped.  The music is just so good.

I find myself singing various songs aloud, as I dart out for a coffee or run off to a meeting.  Sometimes, I am completely oblivious to the fact that "do you hear the people sing" is coming out of my mouth, or a "heart full of love".  People are very forgiving.  Often they give me a funny look, smile and walk on.

There are theatrical bits, monologues from various shows that I've done over the last 25 years that really stuck.  Certain parts from A Man For All Seasons, the first play I did at university in 1986, pop out every once in awhile.

Death come for us all my Lords, even for kings he comes.  To whom, amidst all their royalty and brute strength He will neither kneel nor make reverence, but roughly grasp them by their very breast and rattle them until they be stark dead.

Long passages from Shakespeare re-emerge when I least expect it.  The "To be or not to be" monologue from Hamlet, is one among several that I can rattle off with a high degree of accuracy, and often do, much to the chagrin of Dylan and Ben.

In 2009, Kenny Jones and I did Edward Albee's The Zoo Story.  While I don't recall much of the show, there is a certain section that slices its way into mind and out of my mouth, usually when I'm feeling silly around my sons, as I repeated it to them over and over again during that year.

And then there's the landlady.  Now I don't like to use harsh words when describing people.  I don't like to.....but the landlady is a fat, mean, stupid, unwashed, ugly, misanthropic, cheap, drunken, bag of garbage.

I'd have to go back to the script to see if I got all the words in that particular description string, but you get the point.

I wonder if the songs from Les Mis will stay with me for a lifetime?  The only other musical that has is Jesus Christ Superstar, likely because it was one of the only records we owned when I was growing up.  I would sit there in the living room, with the booklet that came with the double album, reading the lyrics and singing along.  Those songs will never leave me.

Different lyrics, different songs rise into the minds of various cast members as they start their day.  Often, it's not one of their songs, but someone else's.  As we get closer and closer to opening the show, more of the words and phrases will settle into our bones.  By the time we're running Les Mis, nine performances in total starting February 13, many of us will know every single word.  I'm fairly convinced that Ben, Emma and a few others are already there.


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