On October 5, 2023

The Movie Diary: All the world’s a stage

By: Dom Cioffi

Not long after college and prior to getting married, my wife and I traveled to England for a vacation. She’d been there for a semester during school and wanted to return to show me how wonderful the country was.

We visited many of the popular attractions and did our best to find food worthy of eating. But the highlight of the trip was when we attended a theater production in London’s famous West End district. 

My wife purchased tickets to see “Les Misérables,” which was enjoying a stellar run around the world at that time. She was adamant that I had to see that particular production since it was widely regarded as one of the best. 

To be honest, I wasn’t initially interested. At that age (mid-20s), I was more attentive to sports and loud rock music; the theater did nothing for me. (Ironically, my brother was an accomplished stage actor, but even with that, I found little appreciation in the discipline.)

So, outside of some high school productions that I was forced to watch, and a couple of my brother’s roles (that fell into the Shakespearean genre, which I found inaccessible), I had little exposure to the art form. 

However, since I was still in the courting phase of our relationship, I obliged my wife’s wishes and agreed to attend even though I was thoroughly against the idea. 

Based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo and set in early 19th-century France during the French Revolution, “Les Misérables” tells the story of Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption after being held in captivity for 14 years for stealing a loaf of bread. 

The book is considered a literary masterpiece and widely regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s also one of the longest with 655,478 words (the novel is divided into five volumes, with each volume divided into several books, and subdivided into chapters, for a total of 48 books and 365 chapters). I love to read, but I’ve never even considered reading that behemoth. 

Our seats were right in the middle, about 10 rows back. The theater was packed and I was actually getting excited to see what this was all about, although, in the back of my mind, I was still convinced I was going to be bored.  

Much is lost to memory since this event occurred 30 years ago, but I do remember being mesmerized by the majesty of the actors. In my uneducated mind, I expected the story to feel fake since much of the set was representational. However, quite the opposite happened. The actors were so immersed in their characters that I was transfixed by the emotion they projected. 

Everything felt so real, even more real than the movies I was used to watching. 

At one point, I remember seeing the lead actor project his speech so passionately that he was spitting into the air and all over the first two rows. And no one seemed to mind!

When the show ended, I along with the rest of the audience, sprang to a standing ovation. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I actually felt tears streaming down my face. I had never been so emotionally overcome by a story and to this day, I’m not sure any theater experience has topped it. 

And there’s been many.

After that experience, I fell in love with theater productions and attended many of the great Broadway shows of the last several decades. Some I loved, some I found underwhelming. But on almost every occasion I enjoyed the activity of watching people perform live theater art. 

I recently went to see a traveling Broadway production of Michael Jackson’s life called “MJ – The Musical.” The musical incorporates 25 songs from Michael’s career with and without the Jackson 5. It also delves into the demons that MJ fought while bringing his art to the world.

Once again, I went into this show with low expectations, but walked out in complete awe. Sure, I knew the music was going to be good (after all, it’s Michael Jackson), but the story and set designs were equally magnificent. From beginning to end, I was transfixed with the flow of the production and the creative use of metaphor to tell Michael’s unique story.

If you have the opportunity to see this show, by all means, go, even if you have to travel overnight – it’s that good. 

A thrilling “A” for “MJ – The Musical,” now touring throughout the U.S. and in residency on Broadway. 

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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