Carnett: We dream of 'Les Miz'

I went on a date the other evening with my eldest and youngest daughters.

I escorted the two thirtysomethings –- I'm not so dumb as to divulge their actual ages — to see director Tom Hooper's dazzling new film, "Les Miserables."

Talk about a blubber fest! (That's not a snarky comment about Russell Crowe's poundage.) The three of us — Jenn, Melissa and myself — bawled our eyes bleary throughout the sappy, self-indulgent confection.

We were manipulated six ways to Sunday, but we loved it! We knew precisely what to expect, and got exactly what we wanted in fire-hose proportions.


"Les Miserables" is a musical play based on a novel of the same name by French poet and playwright Victor Hugo. Set in 19th-century France, it's the story of a peasant's quest for redemption after having served 19 years in jail for stealing a baguette.

The theater was packed the night we went, and my gender was seriously under-represented. Seventy-five percent of the attendees were females.

Where were the men? Next door, obviously, watching another mind-numbing James Bond car chase, suave casino move and helicopter crash. How shallow.

Guys, you're better than that!

Jenn and Melissa were our Drama Queens while they were growing up. The middle sister of the trio, Jade, was the quiet, cerebral one. Jade was a "fan" of her sisters' thespian exploits, but never a co-conspirator.

Jenn and Melissa were talented theater students in high school and college, and garnered lead roles in numerous productions. They've since passed along their diva DNA to a new generation of Carnett family damsels.

I, too, was a theater student in high school and in college, but I've never considered myself a drama nerd. Yet, I do so enjoy lusty, schmaltzy musicals — and "Les Miz" is a veritable freight train.

As a teenager, Jenn was exposed to a stage production of "Les Miz." She then introduced Melissa to the show and together, they attended several performances. They became ardent Miz-believers.

The musical itself ended up becoming a global phenomenon. To date, it's been produced in 42 countries and translated into 21 languages.

Over the years, I heard countless hours of music — the original Broadway cast recording — wafting from boom boxes in my daughters' bedrooms. There was the heart wrenching "I Dreamed a Dream"; the stirring "One Day More"; the martial "Do You Hear the People Sing"; the haunting "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"; and the ethereal "Bring Him Home." Almost by osmosis, I developed a penchant for the score.

Slowly, ever so slowly, like water dripping on granite, I was brainwashed — er, beguiled — by the spectacle that is "Les Miserables."

I'm told that nearly 1.6 million Broadway-cast recordings have been sold, so I'm certain I'm not the only father of daughters to have been swept away by this cultural tsunami. Only recently have I fully accepted the reality that I'd be a very different man today were it not for the fact that I had daughters. I can't, for instance, imagine my 14-year-old grandson going loopy for "Les Miz."

I've never actually viewed a live production of the show, but in 1995 I was smitten by Lea Salonga's portrayal of Eponine in the 10th-anniversary "Dream Cast" concert production of the show that aired on PBS. I watched transfixed. Miss Salonga, by the way, achieved near-goddess status in our household.

In 2010, I went gaga for the 25th-anniversary concert that also aired on PBS. I watched it repeatedly.

On the way home from the metroplex the other evening we three critics compared notes in the car. We agreed that Anne Hathaway's casting as Fantine was sheer genius. Hugh Jackman rallied to overcome vocal limitations and turned in a wonderful performance as Jean Valjean. And Crowe, as Javert, managed to get through his performance without pulling a hamstring reaching for notes.

The girls and I reveled for three hours in magnificent mawkishness. Hooper and his actors and musicians played us like bass fiddles — and we loved it.

"Les Miz" rocks!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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