I Dreamed a Dream

Yes, Les Misérables is a sentimental musical. Yes, its earnestness might be said to rise to a kind of self-parody. Yes, there are a lot of power ballads in there.

But travel with me back to February, 1987.

Say you’re fourteen years old. Say you’ve just read (an abridged version of) the novel for English class.* Which despite getting off to a slow start ultimately resolved itself into a very, very satisfying love-and-war story. And say you waited on hold with the Kennedy Center ticket office for nearly an hour to secure fourth-row seats to the show, which as of yet has no reputation, as it’s opening in DC before it heads to Broadway.

*This after having read an abridged version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame the previous year. Why so much Hugo, Mr. Gillard and Mr. White? Not complaining. Just curious.

Then, say, you go to the show. And though you are no stranger to Broadway, you are awestruck. Because to your fourteen-year-old ears, it is high art. And the voices are beautiful. And the music is hummable. And the themes are important. And you wish fervently to be up there, singing those songs, feeling those feelings, dreaming those dreams.

And say your parents buy you the soundtrack right then and there. And say you listen to that soundtrack, on a loop, for the next six months. While Les Misérables becomes a mega-hit.

Wouldn’t you have a special relationship with it?

And twenty-four years later, when Patti LuPone (who originated the role of Fantine) published a memoir, wouldn’t you buy it? Even though the free excerpt you downloaded on your Kindle was really, really bad?

[Hangs head in shame.]

I’m a girl, people. There are things I can’t resist!

And oh, this memoir. This tragedy of a memoir!

No, I do not expect LuPone to be a writer. But I do expect her publisher to get her a competent ghostwriter. And a coherent editor. Who together, presumably, would make sure that the writing actually made sense, and that the paragraphs had at least a modicum of internal logic, and that sentences that directly contradicted each other did not appear in immediate succession.

Weirder even than that: It’s superficial! It’s very bizarrely not about LuPone’s apparently hugely passionate feelings and is instead a whirlwind tour through her many tours, with a nod to this person here and that relationship there. It is, essentially, a heaping pile of plot. Which—what?

I dun get it.

I’m only partway through. So I’m holding out the weensiest smidge of hope that there’s something a little more toothsome in the Les Miz chapter. Though what are the chances?

Yeah. I know.

ETA 3/8/11: Patti LuPone did not do Fantine in America! Randy Graff did!

Hey, Randy Graff! You were awesome.

(I also saw Graff in City of Angels a couple of years later, for which she won the Tony.)

So . . . I finished the memoir. And while it does get more interesting (read: bitching commences), it certainly doesn’t improve by way of writing. And it doesn’t gain any depth. Aside from her diva-esque grandiosity, I have no sense of who LuPone is.

I feel empty and dirty now. Maybe I’ll YouTube some old Randy Graff clips and sing along.

ETA 10 minutes later: Patti LuPone is really freaking amazing. She YouTubed her way back into my heart.

5 Responses to “I Dreamed a Dream”

  1. Joe says:

    Have you read Patti Smith’s memoir, “Just Kids”? I finished it over the weekend. It might be a good antidote to the superficiality of Ms. LuPone’s opus.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Did you watch the special on PBS last night? They had some members of the original cast sing a few songs with the current cast at the end.

    I don’t have quite the relationship with the show that you have but I read the unabridged version for school over spring break my sophomore year in high school (all I did was sleep, eat, row and read) and when listening to the music then I was struck by the fact that the music alone could make by cry. Is it silly to admit it still does?

  3. admin says:

    Joe, *Just Kids* is on my list. I even own it! Will get to it.

    And Carolyn, whoah, I had no idea there was a PBS special. Too bad I missed it! And I love that you read the unabridged version and were totally into it. It’s good, right? Hugo’s sentimental but good, I guess. At least, that’s what I remember.

    And I’m glad the music can still make you cry! Aw.

  4. John says:

    And who was the teacher who made us read A Tale of Two Cities in 7th grade? I can’t remember her name. I also remember being blown away by the original cast of Les Miserables.

  5. admin says:

    Hey, John. I wasn’t in that class, alas, so I didn’t have that problem (Dickens at 12 — who thinks that’s a good idea?). And I don’t remember that teacher’s name. I do remembering struggling mightily with *Great Expectations* in Mr. White’s class and losing.

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