Hear the People Sing

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A couple of weeks ago, one of Broadway’s most popular shows, Les Miserables, had its official revival opening in New York. Now, I LOVE Les Mis. Not only did I grow up singing all the lyrics as a didn’t-need-any-help-to-be-nerdier middle schooler, but I was also part of a beautiful regional production that really rekindled my own personal flame for theater. (My best friend and I knew the show so well that when I was in it, she knew all my solo lines. “I got ‘and in a bed’!”)

So I am always happy to see Les Mis return to the stage, and I was even more delighted because one of my dearest friends was making his Broadway debut this time around. I saw the show, and enjoyed it. As an actor, I am almost never without some critiques of the production, but that is totally not the point of this post.

Here’s what IS the point. I was curious enough to read a number of reviews after the show’s official opening. This is the link I used to read the reviews: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/189133-The-Verdict-Critics-Review-Les-Misrables-Broadway-Revival

If you click the link, you find one news outlet after another. A one-stop shop for theatrical criticism. I eventually read them all, and what I found was staggering.

“Schonberg’s rousing, frequently gorgeous music” “Schonberg’s repetitive, syrupy score”

“this underlit spectacle seems to explore the 50 shades of brown” “murky lighting design is quite beautiful”

“[the Thenardiers] are fantastically funny” “the heavy-handed bawdiness of the innkeepers, the amoral Thenardiers, takes them way over the top into vulgar pantomime”

“They make the interminable ‘Master of the House’ a lot less painful than usual” “[Master of the House] has always been one of my favorite moments in the show”

“I was moved by ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ in ways I haven’t been in years.” “’I Dreamed a Dream’ is a soulless display of chops”

Just…wow. The reviews carried every shade, color, and hue, from rhapsodic sentimentality to begrudging admiration to stone-cold disdain. Never has it been so apparent to me: you will never please everyone. Not as a performer and not as a person. And frankly, in reading the reviews, they seemed almost pointless to me. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But I’m not sure when we started believing that having an opinion meant you were entitled to share it whenever and wherever you like. Many of the reviews were poorly written, or had little understanding of the story (if you’re pitting Valjean as a perfect angel vs. Javert as a devilish villain, you’ve like, completely missed the point), which to my mind goes a long way in diminishing credibility.

All of our voices are important. As individuals, we need to be heard. But my goodness the din gets loud. We use input to help, support, guide, and advise one another. But the loudest voice is not necessarily the one with the best opinions or ideas. One man’s glorious, soaring epic is another man’s sentimental, simpering piece of crap. And it’s at that point that you need the ability to tune out, so that the loudest, wisest voice inside of your head is always your own.

Be well.