What I Learned from Tragedy

Well, it was back in high school when I first discovered the genre of tragedy. I treated the genre very poorly. Told myself I will NEVER love a tragedy (little did I know what would happen in my first year of college. Throughout all the years I was at Fletcher (referring to high school)- stayed close minded to that genre. Each time one was read, I already did not like any of them.

Then out of the blue in December 2012, I experienced Les Mis for the first time. My family was taking my sister and I to see the film. I actually was unsure coming in, but the only reason why I decided to go is because I knew the song, “I Dreamed a Dream”. I wasn’t even told what genre the musical was so that way I would even go. If I had known Les Mis was a tragedy, that first time never would have happened.

Well it was after Fantine’s death when I realized Les Mis was a tragedy. I was extremely shocked and confused. Never did a tragedy exist in musicals before: all I had seen previously were happy musicals. Nothing made sense at all. I didn’t even know how to respond or feel or react. So that experience was not the best time I even had. Even though I thought Les Mis was TOO DEPRESSING, I somehow came out with “Do You Hear the People Sing” stuck in my head. Then a day or a few weeks later, I don’t know why I did that, but I started researching the musical myself.

March 2013- I don’t know why I decided to watch the film again. That time around, I got so much more out of Les Mis. It helped a lot knowing ahead of time that I was seeing a tragedy. I was able to realize there was something special about Les Mis, and at the same time, I felt uplifted at the end. That made no sense at all- I originally thought all tragedies were pure sad. But after the 2nd chance, the rest is history.

Halton Theater

By Summer of 2013, I was obsessed with Les Mis. I had dug quite deep into the musical trying to figure out why I felt uplifted. I soon found the answer: the themes of hope, love, forgiveness, compassion, sacrifice, humanity, and redemption were why. That same year, the community college I attended put on a phenomenal production of that musical. I was there three times: first with family on Nov. 15, and an usher the 17th and 24th. That production truly was the motor for wanting to see Les Mis in the West End.

Well, July 30th, 2015 was when I saw the West End production. I already was going to be in England that year for a Bristol Pilgrimage, which would start in London. My family went up two days early to get used to the time change and get more out of London. I was seeing Les Mis with my mom, and our seats were the 9th row back from the stage. It was surreal at first- from seeing the Queen’s Theater to buying souvenirs to noticing I had an understudy for Valjean to seeing the set to seeing how close I was- nothing felt real. Then after I heard the first notes of the orchestra, I knew this was no dream, but a dream becoming reality. Those first notes also told me it was going to be more than expected, and they were right.

What do you know: Nov. 5th, 2017 was my fifth time seeing the stage show. This time I was with Gardner Webb University. Once again had a understudy (this time for Eponine). I was seeing it in Greenville at the gorgeous Peace Center. I came in fresh meaning I wasn’t go to compare the cast to my West End. Making that decision made me see the US Tour cast for what they were, and was able to respect and appreciate my understudy. It actually lived up to the West End cast in their own way. After all, this was the 25th anniversary production: it felt like it had more Victor Hugo in it, and it truly showed the vastness of Paris. There were some scenes I loved a lot more in this particular production: for example, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”.

Peace Center

What do you know again: that every other year pattern continued. This time, I experienced the US Tour with Blumenthal. That was Nov. 3rd, 2019, and was another date with my mom. 2019 had five of the exact same actors/actresses playing the same role as 2017- the Javert (Josh Davis), Cosette (Jillian Butler), Marius (Joshua Grosso), Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker), and Madame Thenardier (Allison Guinn). Another thing happened again: another understudy (for Valjean).

Just like 2017, Joshua Grosso and Matt Shingledecker were still standouts. I can easily say why Joshua was a standout, but not for Enjolras. As a matter of fact, Joshua has become my favorite Marius- part comes from his chemistry with Cosette, part came from an added personality trait (awkwardness), and part from how he interacted with Eponine. Due to that, I was able to explore Marius and Cosette a bit further, but at the same time not ignoring Eponine. That new personality trait made Marius a much more charming character- due to that, Marius is almost a core favorite character.

Ovens Auditorium

So in a short period of time- four theaters, four casts, and in total six times. The stage show might only have four casts, but I have seven casts in total: I also have seen the film, 25th concert, and the staged concert of 2019 (which I saw in cinemas). I think it is crazy how for some characters, I only have five actors, some I have six, and for some seven. 2019 was filled with a number of repeats—part of which were from my West End cast and the rest the US Tour.

Les Mis truly taught me a lot about the genre of tragedy. What I once believed about tragedies and what I knew about musicals were challenged. I never knew a tragedy is not just a tragedy. Due to Les Mis’ spiritual side, it makes it inspiring and uplifting. Due to the nature of the book, it makes perfect sense why the musical is sung-through. Through several of the songs, there is some kind of spiritual nature happening. Compassion is shown at death scenes, most of the characters have hope, etc……I believed that death scenes would be both unmemorable and that song couldn’t happen at those moments. I thought I knew the full capability of musical emotions, but Les Mis truly showed me a different side to emotions: due to heartbreak entering the picture, it strengthened them and made them more powerful. I think I had a hard time with tragedies at first because the word can through you off guard, and it seems as if I didn’t know “catharsis”- that is why tragedies are more and make you have a positive experience and not the other way around.

Les Mis is the reason why I am passionate about musicals. I actually am able to pick up on negative emotions faster in other musicals. It still is odd going back to Fletcher remembering how I once felt about the genre. Les Mis proved me wrong in more ways then none.

5 thoughts on “What I Learned from Tragedy

  1. Thanks Meg
    I too am interested in the spiritual side of musicals – I would say that the current situation would point us to the message of Hairspray.
    Regarding Les Mis…. I think that I would argue that because there is redemption, forgiveness and hope it is not a tragedy. Some parts are tragic… Even in death there does not have to be tragedy!
    Malcolm

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    • Well, what ultimately makes any tragedy a tragedy is the “catharsis”- that is what I failed too see. I first noticed that heartbreaking musicals do have something deep down that makes them so much more.

      Growing up- I had this false idea of what musicals were: all happy, all having spectacle/dance, only four emotions: excitement, love joy, and sad. It still helped me know what makes a musical a musical.

      Les Mis has this deep spirituality that makes you have a positive experience not a negative one. I know this first hand- back in 2015, one of the shows I saw, gave me such a negative experience where I was too uncomfortable watching it. That same year I saw Les Mis—-positive experience. I use the words, heartbreaking and tragic, but at same time inspiring and uplifting: I use the positive words a lot more.

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  2. Thanks Meg
    I too love the spirituality of musicals. I think the current situation needs us to go back to the message of Hairspray.
    Regarding Les Mis – to me, because there is redemption, reconciliation, compassion and forgiveness it is not a tragedy. Some of the events are tragic – but hope, even in death says it isn’t a tragedy – but I may be wrong!
    Malcolm

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  3. It’s amazing how much can be learned from exploring new genres and what a journey it can take you down when you try something new. While I did have an appreciation for tragedies before Les Miz; it was Les Miz that really got me thinking about tragedy–and storytelling in general, really–about tragedy in a different way.

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