The favorite musical for many of my friends — including some here at Popejoy Hall — soon comes to the movie screen. Les Misérables makes its motion picture debut on Christmas Day in movie theaters here and across the country. Whether it will be a Christmas present they will enjoy, time will tell.
I am often asked to name my favorite musical. When asked, I sometimes remember a lesson I learned from my college theater professor, Sieg Krueger. He said that watching theater after having worked in it for awhile becomes a mixed blessing. You love watching the show, but you often end up studying it as much as watching it. You analyze how they’re telling the story as much as just watching the story unfold.
Anyway, my favorite musical is Ragtime. The characters and their story appeal to me intellectually and emotionally.
When I watched the Broadway production, I saw its technical virtuosity, its artistic integrity — from script to direction, choreography and design — and the emotional through line of its story. I experienced the show the way Sieg Krueger warned me I would, but in this case it added one more dimension to a very full sensory experience.
Recently, I had the opportunity to do something that I hadn’t been able to do in some time: listen to a Broadway musical recording start to finish. Another thing Sieg Krueger taught me is that you don’t listen to a Broadway recording the way you would any other recording. You’re not likely to want the greatest hits of Daniel Radcliffe on your iPod. But if you enjoyed his recent performance in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, you might enjoy having the CD to play so you can recreate that experience.
Of course, Broadway cast albums originated more as marketing tools than as souvenirs. The idea was to make you want to see the show based on listening to it over and over again. Many Les Mis lovers first experienced the show from the London cast album.
Hollywood did the same thing for its movie musicals, but VHS and DVD sales all but killed that market. Why listen to just the songs when you can watch the whole movie?
A few Broadway albums stand out as marketing outreach efforts in my mind. I became aware of Ragtime after I bought the pre-Broadway release of a few of the songs on CD. It did its work: I bought a ticket the moment I could.
For me, the Broadway album of Dreamgirls was another successful marketing outreach. Once I heard the passion in the music and its delivery, I longed to see the show. But I never got to see it on stage. I’m personally looking forward to it coming to Popejoy this February. It’s the first time the show has ever appeared on our stage.
I hope local Broadway show lovers get a Broadway present this Christmas, whether a positive experience watching Les Misérables in the movie theater or a Broadway CD under the tree — and the time to listen to it start to finish.
Terry S. Davis
Photo: The company of the 25th anniversary production of Cameron Mackintosh's Les Misérables