L is for Les Miserables: #AtoZChallenge (a day late)

Y’all might not know this, but I have a little bit of a Lin-Manuel Miranda Problem, and by “problem,” I mean “all-consuming obsessive crush.”  It also means that I’m a Hamilton obsessive, and have wasted more hours than I’d care to count trying to find tickets at a price lower than our mortgage.  Turns out, it’s just a wee bit difficult to secure tickets for that particular show.

So when Broadway in Boston announced that Hamilton would be part of it’s 2017/2018 season, we did the only thing that made sense and could guarantee us tickets – we bought a season subscription.  So, guess who is seeing, like, eight shows – including Hamilton! – in the next year?

I’ve always loved musical theatre.  When I was in high school, I watched and listened to musicals voraciously, starting with Les Miserables in 1996.

It wasn’t the first musical I’d heard – my parents owned the original London Cast recording of The Phantom of the Opera (which I’m finally seeing this year!), but Les Mis was the first one that I ever saw live, and an experience I walked into utterly blind.  I had no idea what the story was, and I knew none of the music.  The Passport Club at my high school was offering the opportunity to go, and my best friend (who was a Drama Guild kid and already theatre obsessed) insisted I go with her.

I don’t know what most struck me about the show; of course it was the music, the singing, how surprisingly quickly I fell for the character of Javert (still my favorite in the show), but also, just everything about that night.  A rainy, late night in Boston with a few of my closest friends.  The electric thrill of live performance, of anticipation – there are few moments more perfectly joyous than when the lights go down and the curtain rises on a show, and few pleasures greater than sharing an experience like that with others.

The show ate it’s way into my brain the way nothing else had before, and which (if I’m being honest) nothing has since.  That summer, I collected four different versions of the soundtrack (including one in a language I didn’t speak); joined an online fan club; and picked up a half dozen pen pals (pen-and-paper penpals, that is) that I met on Les Miserables message boards on AOL.  We traded audio tapes talking about our lives and singing our favorite songs from Les Mis and various other musicals.  We made period costumes and staged tableaus of various scenes from the show and sent them to each other.  We ran on-line chat room role-playing in character.  We wrote fan letters and cyberstalked (in an innocent sense) the touring cast.  We continued those exchanges and those activities for a solid three years.

Nothing had inspired me, in such an earnest way, to be so enthusiastic, and so unashamed and unabashed at my sheer love of this silly little piece of theatre, and nothing had inspired me to be so freely creative.  The summer after I saw the show for the first time, I started writing fanfic.  My longest finished piece of writing, to this day, is a story I wrote while in Les Mis fandom at 15 – a 35k Enjolras/Grantaire romance called (not super creatively) “The Skeptic’s Account.”  I wrote over a half dozen fan poems; another epic length fanfic; and a huge, fully illustrated, partially collaborative (with my sister), and ultimately incomplete self-insert fanfic which was (in a literary sense) awful, but some of the most transcendentally fun writing I had ever done.

Nothing compares to that anymore.  I mean, getting a hand-written postcard from Lin-Manuel Miranda was pretty amazing, but even though it kicked me back into making an effort to be creative again (and I’m not trying to minimize the importance of that), it was no Les Mis.  I rode high on that for literal years.  I’ve never had a fan experience like that before, and I likely won’t again.  But I’m open to it.  I’m hopeful.

Has a piece of media – however silly – ever had a profound impact on you or your creativity?


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Jessica Cross

Writer, maker, geek, feminist, mom. Not necessarily in that order.

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