I don’t generally drop “I was in Les Mis” into casual conversation because, well, I just don’t want to be that girl. (Although, to be honest, I have been that girl on occasion. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable. And while we’re at it, I also had a makeover on CityLine. See? Unavoidable.) Now the release of the new movie version of Les Misérables is imminent and everyone who’s anyone will be talking about it non-stop, which is going to shatter my fragile little heart into a million pieces. Why? Because my dear friends, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway went behind my back and made this movie without me.
It is an unthinkable injustice. But, being the gracious, glass-is-half-full kind of girl that I am, I am choosing to dwell on my wonderful Les Mis memories instead of letting the icy grip of despair squeeze the final breath out of my heartbroken body. And I am going to share those memories with you. I’m going to be that girl today.
It all started when our local TV station announced a contest for a one-night-only role in the US touring company’s production of Les Misérables. Entering the contest was easy: write in 50 words or less why I deserved to be in the show. Now, this was back in the day when I fancied myself a singer/actor. Ironically, it was my writing that got me in. Who knew?
Here’s my winning entry (which you’ll appreciate so much more if you’re well-versed in the soundtrack):Mistress of the house, doling out the charm Ready with some kisses for a scraped-up arm Servant to the kids, butler to the spouse Comforter, philosopher, I clean the house Everybody’s boon companion, everybody’s chaperone I really love my family, but want to have some fun just “on my own”.
And just like that, I won!
I was interviewed on the local TV station, and the story played nationally (which I didn’t know about until later when people started calling to tell me they’d seen me on Canada AM and I hadn’t even had a chance to set my VCR! Yes, this was a few years ago.) I got my own copy of the script and the score and had rehearsals with the music director. He was very relieved that I could carry a tune (you never know what you’re going to get when it’s a writing contest) and he was also quite pleased that I already knew the music and could hold my own with either the soprano or alto lines. Then I had an on-stage rehearsal with some of the cast; I even got to climb on the barricade! And I had costume fittings (which was extra fun, as I was only 5 months post-partum). They were very particular about having every single article of clothing be as true as possible to the period, which meant no zippers (except for one person’s ball gown because that particular role required a 20-second costume-change including hair and make-up), lots of petticoats, and hand-made, thigh-high, silk stockings. I even got to keep my stockings – one pair of blue and one pair of taupe. Look! I still have them!
And then it was my big night! I got 10 free tickets to the show, plus backstage passes for everyone and a bunch of Les Mis paraphernalia to hand out.
I was in the first two scenes, and then I had a bit of a break. I got to stand in the wings and watch the next few scenes from just off-stage. The cast members were mostly very gracious and stopped to talk to me when they had a free moment. Someone kindly pointed out that I shouldn’t really be grinning on-stage. We were meant to look more miserable. Duly noted.
Someone else asked if I was having fun and I replied, “Yes! Are you?” He had the nerve to roll his eyes and say, “This is my 9-to-5.” And I may have possibly mentioned some teensy piece of advice such as, “If you’re not having fun then perhaps you need a new 9-to-5.” Okay, that may have been a tad snarky. But at least I didn’t whack the buzz-kill with a stolen silver candle holder.
Then came the inn scene. Someone had warned me that whenever a new person joined the cast, it was kind of a game for everyone else to try to make the newbie break character on stage. So I was slightly prepared when I was dancing on a table with a few other inn guests and Monsieur Thénardier sang his way over to us and promptly stuck his head up under my skirt. I shrieked like any respectable barhop and kept dancing, but I was uber-grateful for all those petticoats!
At intermission, I hung out with the rest of the cast in the Green Room. I was greatly amused at how many of them bought a Mountain Dew from the vending machine to energize them for the second half of the show. They went on and on about how exhausting this business was and how they could never make it night after night without that jolt of caffeine. After they had all gotten their fix, I gently pointed out that Canadian Mountain Dew doesn’t have caffeine. Who’s the buzz-kill now?
I was in three more scenes in the second half. Folding bandages with the other women at the barricade was so surreal! But all the gun smoke choked me half to death and kept me from getting lost in the emotional moment.
At the end of the show, I got to take a solo bow. I’m sure my ten fans were happy to finally pick me out of the crowd. And once the audience dissipated, those same ten fans got to come backstage and meet people. Nobody had digital cameras back then, and I didn’t have a camera with me at all, so I have not a single picture from that night. But I did get to add my signature to the cast-signed show poster, which I will keep forever. Yes, that’s right. I’m keeping my own autograph as a souvenir. That’s completely normal. I also got to keep my own little tubs of stage make-up, including a pot of tooth-black. That makes for a super-sexy look, let me tell you. I’m not going to prove it with a picture. Instead, here – look at my self-autographed souvenir poster.