I dreamed a dream in time gone by that someday I would be sitting in a cinema watching the film version of Les Misérables. In 1993 I had recently convinced my mother to take me to a touring production that had settled for a week in St. Louis (an event that is, in large part, the reason I am now sitting in this office in Lincoln Center).
After seeing the show, I ran home and connected my Commodore 128 to a mostly image and ad-free Internet to comb the various repositories of text files to find anything I could about the history and future of a movie version of the show. Then I was young and unafraid, and I took at face value the proclamations from the Cameron Mackintosh office that a "director had been engaged," that "preproduction had begun," and that the film would be released by the end of the decade. This, to my teenage mind, seemed impossibly far in the future, but, helpless to do otherwise, I waited. And 2000 came and went. And the movie versions of Evita, Chicago, The Producers, Hairspray, Dreamgirls, Nine, and even Phantom of the Opera were made, flickered briefly across a few screens in mostly empty Midwestern theaters, and were, with one or two exceptions, forgotten. And then Susan Boyle happened, and hope was high and life worth living. "Preproduction" at last turned to "production" in the IMDB status field, and then, last May, there was a trailer.
In 1993, I didn't necessarily want a movie version because I thought Les Miz was a musical particularly well suited to the medium. I wanted it, because in the those days before the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts were released on DVD and before the regional and amateur rights were released, it was the only way I could imagine seeing the show again. I quickly purchased most of the English language audio recordings (and wore out my three cassette album of the Complete Symphonic Recording within about a year), but I wanted to see the staging, the sets, movement, all that makes it theater, again.
Of course, no film version or live video recording can reproduce the experience of sitting in the audience of a Broadway show. Yet, like a cast recording or a published script and score, these artifacts help audiences rekindle the memories of the event they witnessed. Now, surrounded by such artifacts, I consider it part of my responsibility as a digital curator to serve versions of my younger self, now living far from New York City, with no real hope of getting here soon, who comb through the Internet trying to catch a few crumbs from the Broadway table. But, of course, all of us, even those who live or work in Midtown, are essentially in the same position. None of us can now experience the original Broadway production of Les Miserables any more than we can visit a Virgin Megastore, Lindy's Restaurant, or Footlight Records. All now exist only in the memories of those who lived in a time and a place when and where they existed. Those of us who study theater are, essentially, archeologists — attempting to reconstruct an event from the traces that it left behind: scripts, audio records, designs, photographs, and video.
So, today, with the very kind permission of photographer Joan Marcus, I am placing a few more traces of Les Misérables online in the form of photographs from early casts of Les Miserables. Unlike the photographs in our Digital Gallery (which are produced by our professional photography team in Long Island City), I personally digitized these photos with a consumer-grade camera, but in my excitement about the upcoming film (5 days more!) I couldn't wait to get them out there. Happy Holidays everyone!
All photos below © Joan Marcus