Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Les Miserables Musical - Eponine and Marius
Eponine's Errand by ~wishluv on deviantART
I first saw Les Miserables on Broadway in 1999, the summer between 8th and 9th grade. Though Cats was my first musical, Les Mis was my first musical on Broadway. I remember everything about that day so vividly. The musical is a whopping 3 hours or so, and I remember for the first half of the show, I had absolutely no idea who was who and what was going on. I think somewhere in the middle of young Cosette's "Castle on a Cloud," I realized that I saw an anime when I was really young of the story of "Jean Valjean" so I was familiar with Cosette's story. What really arrested my attention was after the 9 year time leap to Paris in Act 1, where we are first introduced to the revolutionary students and crew. There was a girl a with an amazing belting voice (not the typical heroine soprano), and I was completely mesmerized. I love the stage dynamics and the rotating stage, the way refrains are reused to create unity in the whole musical and how all the characters are doing there own thing. "One Day More" I think is THE grandest, most exhilirating pre-intermission song ever ("Defying Gravity" from Wicked is up there as well), and I was completely hooked and sat at the edge of my seat for the rest of Act 2, especially all the Eponine parts (and I had thought her to be a minor character previously, so I was pleasantly surprised at how her moments completely steal the show). "On My Own" is probably in my top 10 favorite songs of all time, and the refrains are recycled throughout the show, first with Fantine's Death and again in the Epilogue with Jean Valjean's impending death. The harmonization with the angel Fantine and Eponine with Jean Valjean is one of the most haunting moments in the musical, and they sing my favorite words (in a musical ridden with beautiful lyrics):
"To love another person is to see the face of God."
As you all know, the 1985 Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musical "Les Miserables" was based off the collosal novel of the same name by Victor Hugo in 1862. I read the whopping 1000-something pages in three days, and it was one of the most depressing things I've ever read in my life. Les Mis is one of the few cases where I prefer an adaptation over the original (likewise with the Phantom of the Opera). Don't get me wrong, the novel is a masterpiece, and to truly understand the musical, it is important to read the novel, which sheds much light on many of the characters. You don't really understand Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" until you read Fantine's part in the novel. Relationship dynamics are a bit different too. In the novel, Marius lives in the apartment next to the Thernardiers/Jondrettes, and takes pity on Eponine more than anything else, whereas in the musical, Marius and Eponine are introduced to us as already being friends, and I think Marius truly mourns the death of a close comrade when Eponine dies. I was crying from "A Little Fall of Rain all the way to the Finale and encore that first time I saw it. My mother had been dozing off during the musical because she doesn't understand much English, and I remember being so irritated because I was trying to keep her awake before my dad noticed while trying to concentrate on the show. And then she woke up near the Finale and started crying as well. I asked, "Why are you crying? You slept through half of it." She replied, "Because everyone else is." Yes, Les Mis can reduce anyone to tears, young or old, whether or not you understand the plot. I bought the Les Miserables Original Broadway Cast CD and listening to it religiously and used to know all the lyrics by heart.
I have a weird hobby. Sort of like how I have a quest to collect all the versions of Pachelbel's Canon out there, I have a thing for collecting as many versions of Les Miserables possible. Unfortunately, there is no "perfect" version of Les Miz the Musical. I guess the fun is listening to all the versions and interpretations out there (and there is A LOT with all the different casts and international recordings). The Eponine I saw on Broadway was Kerry Butler, who is absolutely gorgeous and has an amazing voice; she was a perfect Eponine. She went on to Hairspray, Xanadu and other shows, becoming a Tony-nominated actress for her role in Hairspray. Lea Salonga (singing voice of Disney's Princess Jasmine and Mulan) is the perennial favorite as Eponine, though unfortunately, there is no formal CD recording of her though she partakes in the Tenth Anniversary Concert in 1995. I absolutely adore Lea Salonga and had the honor of seeing her perform as Fantine in the Broadway revial of the show in the summer of 2007 (a mostly disappointing revival otherwise). Lea's voice is known for its crystal clarity, and I got to take a photo with her. :) I would have loved to see her as Eponine though. Her version of "Little Fall of Rain" with Michael Ball (the best Marius) is the best rendition of the song. The "Complete Symphonic Recording" is unfortunately the only "complete" recording of Les Mis, and though it is awesome to have all the orchestration, the cast is not my favorite. For me, Colm Wilkinson IS Jean Valjean, just like Adam Pascal is Roger and Sarah Brightman is Christine Daae. The real jewel in the cast is Kaho Shimada as Eponine. Truthfully, it took me a while for her to grow on me. She was in the Japanese production, so supposedly, she had to learn English phonetically for the show. You can hear her accent here and there, but she gives a beautiful performance.
Eponine is such a versatile character because each actress can shed knew light on her where as Cosette will always be Mary-Sue Cosette. Kaho Shimada has one of my favorite portrayals of her character because she captures Eponine's vulnerability and pain in the soft nuances of her voice. Kaho is even more amazing in her native language, and her rendition of "On My Own" may be one of my favorites, and she hits all the notes without any vocal straining. People either love or hate original London and Broadway Cast Frances Ruffelle's Eponine. I personally am fond of it because it's the recording I grew up with. Tony winner Frances Ruffelle captures the waifish, street urchin nature of Eponine well, and she does have a strong, distinct voice that stands out in an ensemble, which I like, especially in "One Day More." Lea Salonga is everyone's favorite, though I'm not as fond of her Tenth Anniversary rendition of her "On My Own" as a recording I've heard of her on Broadway; she portrays a more bitter Eponine--but her voice is absolutely beautiful in "A Little Fall of Rain" with perfect chemistry with Michael Ball. My favorite seiyuu Maaya Sakamoto portrays Eponine in the 2003 Les Miserables production--unfortunately, there is no studio recording so the sound quality may not be perfect because it is a recording of a performance as the "Purple Cast." It is interesting to hear Maaya in a different register from usual-- I would love to see her acting. Her Eponine is more childlike (after all, she's only 16ish in the book), and you can really hear the raw heartache expressed in Maaya's voice--her "Little Fall of Rain" is absolutely beautiful as well because she uses her more Hitomi voice. People like Sutton Foster's Eponine as well, but though she is a great actress (as I saw in Young Frankenstein), she plays Eponine a bit too angry and bitter rather than as a wistful young girl in unrequitted love. I think the lyrics shed light that for Eponine, Marius is the one ray of happiness in her otherwise dismal and impoverished life. Even if she knows that he will never return her feelings to her, just being by his side is enough to sustain her and giver her some hope for the next day.
I can go on talking about Les Mis forever; it's one of my favorite subjects. Don't let me get started on how much I loathed Marius and Cosette initially. Luckily, Enjolras utters another one of my favorite lines to Marius who parades into the ABC cafe in the midst of his melancholic ruminations over Cosette: "Who cares about your lonely soul? We strive toward a larger goal, our little lives don't count at all!" Les Mis is so powerful because in the span of three hours of music and lyric, it can convey every sort of human emotion and theme conceivable to mankind.
I usually fluctuate between a more anime artstyle and more semi-realistic. Ever since my pressure sensitive tip on my Wacom Tablet pen broke, I've been tempted to buy an Intuos--I really want to see how it feels like. I hate drawing backgrounds and couldn't help dressing Marius in the colors of the Revolution, but I hope people can tell the picture is set in 19th century France because of it... or not. In both the book and novel, Eponine wears a tattered chemise and skirt. Her colorings are sort of based off the 2007 Les Miserables anime version of Eponine. (I'm dying to see the anime). It's amazing how little her costume has changed over time though. I wanted Eponine to seem catlike, wary, waifish and headstrong; she would never show her tears to Monsieur Marius' face, I believe. But she's always staring at his back while he's looking towards Cosette. Poor 'Ponine. The title of the artwork "Eponine's Errand" is from a song from the musical by the same name. Marius sees Cosette and falls in love with her at first sight. He asks his street savy friend, Eponine, to help him find Cosette. Eponine eventually finds Jean Valjean's house and realizes that Cosette is that same girl that was abused by the Thernadiers at the inn in Monfermeil. Back then, Eponine was dressed well and pampered before a strange twist of fate landed Eponine on the streets while Cosette grew to become a lovely young lady of the bourgeois class. Later on, Eponine disguises as a boy to be by Marius' side at the barricades. He sends her away to deliver a love letter to Cosette. She does so (followed by the pinnacle song of Act 2 "On My Own") and then returns back to the barricades and takes a bullet in order to save Marius' life. I think despite all, she was happy at the final moment to be able to die in the arms of the one she loves the most.
"Promise to kiss me on the forehead after I'm dead......I shall know." She let her head fall back on his knees; her lids fluttered, and then she was motionless. He thought that the sad soul had left her. But then, when he thought it was all over she slowly opened her eyes that were now deep with the shadow of death, and said in a voice so sweet that it seemed already to come from another world:"You know Monsieur Marius, I think I was a little bit in love with you." She tried to smile, and died.
- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables