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Darrell Huckaby: Can't say enough about 'Les Miserables'

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head? That is a rhetorical question, of course, because everybody in the hearing world has. But let me ask you this. Have you ever gotten a whole movie stuck in your head?

Well I have. I have had the soundtrack of "Les Miserables" stuck in my head since Christmas night when I left the theater in Conyers, having broken a long-standing tradition and gotten into my motor car on the holiest of days. Truth be known, I really had to fight the urge to get back in the ticket line and see the movie for a second time before leaving the theater. "Les Mis" was magnificent! Or to quote the great thespian David Miller, "It was perfect!"

Now if you are not familiar with the work, "Les Mis" is a Broadway Musical based on the 19th century novel by Victor Hugo. It is a sad, stirring, uplifting story about the wretched poor of post-revolution France -- leading up to the June Revolution of 1832. The original didn't really take, I suppose.

Jean Valjean is the central character. He had been sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. And we thought Sidney Nation was a tough judge! Valjean had 15 years tacked on for trying to escape. Oops.

Prison hardened our hero and when he was released he violated his parole and began to be hunted by Inspector Javert, the gung-ho policeman who was a mere sadistic prison guard -- OK, maybe a warden -- when Valjean was in custody.

The epic novel/play/movie follows Jean Valjean for 17 years as he becomes a new -- and very wealthy -- man who is not allowed to escape his past because the dogged Javert will not give up on the hunt.

My favorite scene in the whole story comes shortly after Valjean's release from prison. He is taken in by a kindly parish priest and rewards the man of the cloth by stealing most of the priest's silver. He is captured and brought back to the priest, insisting the whole time that the bag full of silver plates and platters on his back was a gift. The priest -- in a show of mercy -- agrees that he had, indeed, made a gift of the valuables and then -- in a show of grace --"reminds" Valjean that he forgot the most valuable part of the gift, a set of silver candlesticks that will remind the would-be thief for the rest of his life of the person he was created to be. From that point on he would strive to be that person.

A whole lot more stuff happens, but I am sure you want to see the movie for yourself, so I won't spoil it for you.

I first saw "Les Mis" -- or "Les Miz," as some people prefer, on the London stage. And y'all thought Pennsylvania was the only foreign country I had visited, didn't you? I was hooked from the beginning on the story and on the incredible music. I have subsequently seen the play in Atlanta, at The Fox, and on the stage of the Heritage Patriot players about half a dozen times. It is a classic and every time I see it I am stirred by the allusions to courage, honesty, bravery, true love, decency and freedom. It is really an incredible story.

There is humor, too -- and dirt and filth and grime and a few prostitutes and pick-pockets, just for fun.

I don't know what I was expecting from the movie on Christmas evening, but whatever my expectations were, the movie far surpassed them. Let me warn you: the movie is sung, not spoken. By sung, I mean virtually every syllable. Unlike most movies, in "Les Mis" the actors did the singing as they were being filmed. In other words, the songs were not lip-synched and dubbed in later.

The casting was incredible. Anne Hathaway was phenomenal as Fantine, a downtrodden laborer who turned, briefly, to prostitution to provide for her young daughter, Cosette. Russell Crowe can't really sing a lick, but he makes such a splendid Javert that nobody notices -- or cares, if they do notice. Hugh Jackman is magnificent in the lead role, and if Victor Hugo could have cast the movie, he would have cast Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Have you figured out that I liked the movie?

The star of the show was the musical score, however. When Fantine sings "I Dreamed a Dream" I could sense every woman in the audience reliving their love lives. I found myself hoping that my lovely wife, Lisa, was thinking about me. When Hugh Jackman sings "Who Am I?" I found myself wishing that I were Jean Valjean. I tried hard not to sing along, but I couldn't help myself. My apologies to those sitting near me. I laughed out loud at "Master of the House," but wished they had given Michael Cave a shot at that role, and when the cast sang "Look Down," I wanted to run outside and find a poor person to give money to.

And at the barricade, which is the focal point of the movie's second half, as the defenders sang over and over "Do You Hear the People Sing?" I was ready to take up arms.

It's a powerful movie and one that I will see again and again. Just this once, it inspires me to say -- Vive la France!

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.