Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Les Misérables": 10th Anniversary Concert Cast -- "One Day More" (1995)

Tomorrow is the judgment day 
Tomorrow we'll discover 
What our God in Heaven has in store! 

The Gospel of Matthew describes the "Day of Judgment," when God separates the people of all the nations into two groups "as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats," granting eternal life to some and sentencing the rest to eternal punishment.

Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" (1536-41)
The judgment day described in this song from Les Misérables does not refer to God's day of final judgment, but rather to an earthly day that all the major characters of the play expect to mark a turning point in their lives.  For some of those characters, it will prove to be the final day of their lives.

"One Day More" is the final song in act one of Les Misérables.  In most Broadway musicals, the song that closes act one is one of the most memorable songs in the entire play.  It is usually designed to leave the audience on the edge of its collective seat, curious about how all the questions that were raised in the first act will be resolved.  

Les Misérables is based upon Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name, which was one the longest novels ever written -- most unabridged editions run well over 1000 pages long.

A first edition of Les Misérables
The musical version leaves a lot out, but it leaves a lot in as well.  It tells a story that encompasses both political and personal elements.  

The political angle concerns the Paris Uprising of 1832, a very brief and unsuccessful rebellion by a relatively small number of Republicans against the French monarchy.  But the play derives its real emotional impact from its personal stories -- especially the stories of reformed criminal Jean Valjean and his adopted daughter, Cosette.

The Paris Uprising of 1832
"One Day More" is a magnificent song.  Calling it "a song" sells it short -- it's really several different songs that are performed somewhat simultaneously.  

The musicological term for this is counterpoint.  Traditional hymns and popular songs are usually constructed from chords, which are groups of musical notes played at the same time.  (Think "Onward, Christian Soldiers.")

Counterpoint consists of multiple melodies that overlap one another.  Think horizontal instead of vertical -- but the tricky part is that the different melodies have a vertical element as well, and must not only work as individual melodies but also must harmonize with one another at their points of intersection.  

"One Day More" combines four different melodies from the first act of the play.  Jean Valjean's part is based on one melody, while his arch-enemy -- police inspector Javert -- sings another.  Cosette and her young lover, Marius, sing a third tune in counterpoint with Éponine (who is in love with Marius).  The Thénardiers, a sleazy couple who provide comic relief, chime in with a fourth melody.  And a chorus jumps in here and there.

The result is a brilliant construction that can leave you somewhat overwhelmed if you don't have a copy of the words to follow along -- there are usually at least two singers singing two different songs at the same time, and sometimes it gets even more complicated.

It's a little bit like the jugglers and plate-spinners who I remember from the old Ed Sullivan Show.  As the act progresses, it looks like there's no way the whole affair won't come crashing down -- the tension becomes almost unbearable.  But by some miracle, the performers manage to catch all the plates or flaming batons or whatever just in the nick of time.

In addition to being a tour de force example of musical engineering, "One Day More" pulls together all the major plot elements of act one of the play and turns them into cliffhangers that will not be resolved until tomorrow -- that is, act two of the play.

Illustration of Cosette from the
first edition of
Les Misérables
Jean Valjean, who mistakenly believes that the police are on his tail, has decided to take Cosette and head for America before it is too late -- but he wonders if leaving tomorrow will be soon enough for him to evade the long arm of the law:

These men who seem to know my crime 
Will surely come a second time, 
One day more

Cosette and Marius have just met, but it seems that her father will take her far away the very next day.  The dawning of that day will mean a painful separation for them and the end of a love affair that has only just begun:

I did not live until today
Tomorrow you'll be worlds away 

And to make things even more complicated, Marius is torn between his love for Cosette and his loyalty to his fellow students, who are planning to take to the streets tomorrow.

From the London production of Les Misérables
Enjoiras, the leader of the students, is eager to see tomorrow come because he and his comrades will take to the barricades in hopes of overthrowing the monarchy and creating a new world where every man will be a king.

One more day before the storm! 
At the barricades of Freedom! 

Javert, the policeman, looks forward to crushing the hopes of Enjoiras and "these little schoolboys" on the morrow.

One more day to revolution 
We will nip it in the bud 
We'll be ready for these schoolboys 
Tomorrow is the judgement day 

The Thénardiers are counting the hours because they expect many to be slain in the forthcoming battle -- creating opportunities for them to rob the corpses of their valuables. 

Here a little pinch 
There a little touch 
Most of them are goners 
So they won't miss much! 

The one singer in the entire group who does not anticipate a dramatic change in her life when the new day dawns is poor Éponine, a girl of the streets who also loves Marius but is all too aware that he loves Cosette, and does not love her.

For Éponine, tomorrow is just one more day like all the other days:

One more day all on my own 
One more day with him not caring 

For her, the days of her life will all be the same -- each will be one more day where she suffers from her unrequited love for Marius.  

I came late to the Les Misérables party.  The play opened in London in 1985, and it has run there continuously for the ensuing 27 years.  It came to the United States in late 1986, and had a 16-year run on Broadway.  I saw a touring production in Washington, DC, recently thanks to my mother-in-law.  Several years ago, she started giving my family tickets to a visiting musical as our Christmas present, and the tradition continued this year when she took us to see Les Misérables.  (We've seen West Side Story, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, and several other wonderful musicals thanks to her.)

Poster for the 2012 movie
I was somehow not familiar with any of the music from the play, but I'm making up for lost time.  I have not only the original London cast recording, but also a DVD of the 25th anniversary concert performance in London -- the version of "One Day More" embedded below comes from that performance.  I also have a 1934 French movie adaptation of Hugo's novel (it's four and a half hours long) as well as the 1998 movie starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes.  Of course, I'll be seeing the brand-new movie version of the musical, which was released on Christmas Day.

Here's a video (with lyrics) of the 10th anniversary concert performance of "One Day More":

Here's a link you can use to buy the DVD of the 25th anniversary concert performance of Les Misérables from Amazon:

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