And so the circle closes: Les Miserables memories, 1992-2010

This is part review, part flashback and part closure for yours truly, so if it seems a bit scatterbrained, please accept my apologies in advance.

Tonight, I walked the halls of my high school for the first time since May 1994, when I ran sound for a production two years after graduating. I had been meaning for years to stop by the old place to see a production put on by the Drama department, which is still held under the knowing gaze of the person I’ve always only called Baugher [though she does hava a first name, it’s Katherine]. No matter how good my intentions, life seemed to get in the way and I never found my way back there. Until tonight.

Tonight, Midlothian High School’s Drama Department [and the school Orchestra] mounted their production of Les Miserables. Let me say here and now, I went in with very high expectations, partly because I know Baugher, and partly because, if I had to pick one Broadway play as a favorite, however difficult that might be, I would pick Les Miz.

The entire cast was stellar, rising to the challenge of a score that has zero spoken dialogue, everything being sung. To my amazement, their were only a few minor cuts to some numbers. If you had told me years ago that Baugher and Company would be able to say/sing the word ‘whore’ repeatadly inside the hallowed halls of Midlo U, I would have been shocked. I mean, we had to lobby, and lobby hard to say the word ‘damn’ in one of the productions I was in ‘way back when’. Maybe progress has finally come to Chesterfield.

Again, the whole cast, from the lead roles to the ensemble chorus, were a pleasure to watch and listen to. The ‘kid’ [and I can call him kid because he wasn’t born when I went to Midlo] who had the task of singing Jean Valjean…all I can say is the sky is truly the limit for him. When he finished ‘Bring Him Home’, the toughest solo in the whole show, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a high school play. It was so good I forgot that. The moniker ‘it’s only high school theatre’ doesn’t apply here.

The other component here that may in fact color my review is nostalgia. I saw Les Miz on my first trip to New York, with Baugher and the Drama Club, my senior year [1992]. Unlike some friends, I didn’t know a note of the musical before the lights went down. At intermission, I remember Katie Shipplett looking at me and saying, ‘No one dies in the second act.’ I didn’t know if she was lying, or trying to convince herself everything would be alright at the end.

It’s funny, when I was eighteen, the character in Les Miz that I latched onto was Eponine, and, hearing her solo and duet tonite [‘On My Own’ and ‘A Little Fall Of Rain’ respectively] she’s still the character that I identify with at 36 years of age. I took comfort in that, how things sometimes don’t change all that much as we grow older. I’ve walked in a lot of shoes, had a lot of jobs, made and lost friends in the last 18 years, but, in the grand scheme of things, I think I am very similar to the person I was in high school. A little wiser hopefully, but not bitter or [too] cynical.

That it took going back to realize that surprised me. 😉

As I watched and listened to these kids, who now have there entire future ahead of them, pictures flashed of that 1992 NY trip and friends came to mind, some of which I had not thought of in years. Memories of staying up way too late, twelve people to a room, being so tired the next day that some of us slept through a Broadway matinee…figuring sleep would come on the bus ride home [but we talked the whole way back too]. It was one of those rare times in my life where I KNEW this was a special time and I did all I could to take it all in. If I slept, I would have missed something.

So, to Amy Arnold, Drew Cannady, Kurt Heisler,Tony Abeln, Wendi Tudor, Davilee Criss, Jen Ball, Julie Henry, Patrick Crowling, Lisa Cason, Jenne Powers, Kim Catanzano, Carrie Morris, Rebecca Montero and many others from Midlo’s classes of 1992 and 1993, know that you were thought of fondly tonight, and revered, and the legacy of camraderie that drama provides is still going strong a generation later.

That was a wonderful thing to be reminded of. Thanks Eddie for seeing this with me, and lastly thanks and love to Baugher. I know one day you will retire but I hope it’s not anytime soon. I can’t imagine Midlothian without you and I am lucky not only to have had you as a life-changing teacher, but also to be able to call you a friend.

For the record, I DID NOT sleep through a Broadway Matinee. Those who did know who they are. 🙂



[shameless plugs before I go: If you’re in Midlo this weekend, go check out the show at the high school. Ten bucks, curtain rises at 7:30.]

Odds and Sods [Thoughts on ‘Tommy’, Taylor and Elvis, Part 1]

It’s been a while since I posted on the blog, so I thought I would take a moment to talk about this past weekend’s activities and look forward to what promises to be a phenomenal show this Saturday at The National.

Let’s start with last Saturday [04.17]: VCU Theatre’s production of ‘The Who’s Tommy’ at The Raymond Hodges Theatre.

You’re either a fan of The Who, or your not. No production of Tommy will persuade you to like The Who, nor will the ‘normal’ Who fans seek out other musical productions after seeing ‘Tommy.’ People go see this show to hear the songs live, hoping they sound somewhat similar to the double-album they already know.

It’s hard to believe that this ‘rock opera’ is now over forty years of age. Most of it has worn well, and this production brought home the point that, as a story, ‘Tommy’ is still as sick, as twisted and as sadistic as it was in 1969. Moments still make me cringe [the whole ‘Uncle Ernie/Cousin Kevin bit] but, this is a good thing. It’s a heavy play that doesn’t flinch from subject matter that was very taboo back then and doesn’t get discussed often now. And, don’t forget, at its core, it rocks.

This production, done ‘in the round’ is very fluid and never slows down. The performers that stood out to me were Eric Stallings as the teen-aged Tommy, Malorie Mackey as the ever-optimistic believer Sally Simpson, and young Cooper Timberline as the young Tommy. Stallings and Timberline did a masterful job of remaining in character, in the required catatonic state of Tommy, while being poked, prodded, carried and pushed. It really was a wonder to watch these two actors embody this singular character.

Lastly, the band is top-notch. Yes, there was only one foursome that had the bombast of The Who, but these local musicians do a great job staying true to the soundtrack, even playing ‘The Underture’ in Act One, which I fully expected to see cut from the show.

The show is playing this weekend and closes Sunday. Go to Theatre VCU for details. Tickets are $25 for the public with discounts for VCU students, alumni and staff. If you’re a fan of The Who, go support local theatre and check out this ambitious production.

Sunday 04.18 – The ACM Awards

Just a brief note about Sunday’s ACM awards, since I had some new readers ask why I hadn’t written anything about it on Monday. Taylor Swift may not have walked away with any awards this time [which, even though I am a big fan, I kind of expected, seeing as how the album has been out for a long time], but she had one of the most memorable performances of the evening that should, once and for all put to an end the notion that she can’t sing live. This was an appearance where her voice sounded as strong as it did a month ago when I saw her live show in Charlottesville. If ya missed it, here it is, via the wonder that is YouTube.

Taylor at The 2010 ACMs — Change

Congrats to Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert on their wins and performances. Miranda’s performance of ‘The House That Built Me’ was a great showcase for her, showing that she can sing the quiet song, not always having to be the ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’.

And finally, I look forward to Saturday night when none other than Elvis Costello performs at The National – right here in Richmond!! I’ve seen Elvis twice before, and I can’t wait to see and hear what this show will be like in this amazing venue. His last album, 2009’s ‘Secret, Profane and Sugarcane’ has a country/bluegrass flavor to it, so I am hopeful that we’ll hear some rare songs from his catalog. A dream set list for me would include:

Anything from his country covers album, ‘Almost Blue’ but especially Good Year For The Roses

Stranger In My House

Cheap Reward [which was sung wonderfully by Stephen Colbert in November, with Elvis on guitar on ‘The Colbert Report’

Motel Matches

And, of course, my dream setlist isn’t complete without the inclusion of I Hope You’re Happy Now.

I will be happy with whatever is played. But if any one of the above songs is heard, I’ll be ecstatic. Thanks again to The National for really putting Richmond on the music scene map for the first time in a very long time. It’s so nice to have a club that bands want to play!

Full review of Elvis Costello at The National will be posted by Monday night. If you have tickets to that show, see you there. If you don’t, go see Tommy at VCU.

More shows and reviews coming soon…including Jonathan Coulton at The Hat Factory May 13, Carrie Underwood this Tuesday at the Coliseum, and a full recap of the madness that is NASCAR on May First.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!