Friday Writing Experiment No. 11: My Life As A Musical

This week I was very lucky to attend the world premiere of the film Les Misérables. Yes, I lead that kinda life. Well, maybe – we thought we were just going to a preview, but it turned out our names weren’t on a list so we were sent over to Leicester Square where we, um, walked the red carpet also trodden by the stars. Anne Hathaway wore Givenchy. I wore cords, a Barbour, and Blundstone boots.

And even then we thought surely the stars must be in the other Leicester Square cinema (a premiere so grand it had both the Empire and the Odeon Leicester Square). But no, the producers and director and writers were there to give a charming welcome, and then to introduce the stars – all of them: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, and the already very accomplished child stars Isabelle Allen and Daniel Huttlestone. It was rather star-studded, but it was also possible to pick up on the real sense that this was a down-to-earth team brought together through their collaboration on a creative project they felt about passionately: this was work.

And the movie’s pretty fabby. I imagine some people might find the pace at times slow or uneven, and in dramatic terms perhaps we rush through some key moments, relatively, but hey: the music makes up for that. Soak it up. And then look at the source material, too. This is 1,200 pages of nineteenth-century soap opera: episodic, expansive, and (we like this) socially aware. The grit and the shit are really gritty and shitty, the scabs are really scabby. This is a proper film: big sets, crowd scenes, close-ups, loud.

And does that music soar! Some super numbers. Really super. Pretty much the whole film is sung, so all those haters who gripe about the artifice of players bursting into song in musicals can instead enjoy a seamless progression of music – there’s a lot of what is called recitative in opera. What’s really striking is the way in which the singing was all shot live, rather than lip-synced to playback songs: it’s really raw. And not all the songs are performed like West End belters either, which for me tilts on its head a bit that whole issue of perfection in performance. I’ve seen various comments in various forums nitpicking about the quality of this or that, but yada yada (they remind me of opera queens’s one-upping each other in the comments on YouTube – ‘Lucia?! Her Queen of the Night is nothing compared with Mimi’s’, etc.). In Les Misérables many of these songs are so powerful because the singing is throaty and fragile and forced and stretchy and reaching. Wow.

Some of it is pretty potent. Anne Hathaway’s ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ (used in the trailer) is one single take of wow. And Samantha Barks is pretty fantastic, especially considering this is her first movie (and she was a runner-up rather than winner in one of those tv talent shows):

I did not realise that 60 million people have seen the stage show. Another wow.

If you’ve not seen it, watch this feature on the making of the film. And also enjoy more clips via this story (with interesting analysis) in Entertainment Weekly. I like how it notes how we as a culture have forgotten how to watch movie musicals. Well, maybe it’s time to recover that lost art.

And this got me thinking …

This week’s writing experiment is to reconfigure your life as a musical.

For starters, think up some scenes that can plot and emote and (melo)dramatise your life into a sequence of numbers that are brassy and showstopping, or maybe more reflective, or adding comic relief, or perhaps focusing on secondary characters, or tugging at the audience’s emotions, or simply stirring us to come along for the ride (hey, by the end of Les Misérables I was beginning to feel the lure of French Catholicism). And maybe you also need a Bollywood dream sequence starring Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, and Uma Thurman?!

Don’t forget the big rousing number to end Part One (and repoint the narrative), and then the resolution of the finale and maybe an encore and reprise (nice way to think about shaping yer narrative arcs).

Then create some song names. For example, I am thinking that for a certain family member of mine, I can already see the opening number in the programme: ‘The May Queen’s Maid Wears Monkey Boots’.

You can also:

* cast the movie

* create some sets

* choose a focus for your storyline (e.g., the last year of school)

* adapt this idea for other stories or pet projects – novels, as well as life stories

* write your own little elevator pitch (remember, sometimes these are kinda unlikely: ‘A woman leaves an Austrian convent to become a governess to the children of a Naval officer widower’, according to IMDB)

* create your own playlists or mixtapes for your own jukebox musical – but also imagine some numbers of your own making (someone else can write the lyrics or the music, if you wish – writers sometimes delegate too)

This is more than a weekend’s work. This is a lifetime project. But it might also be a fun way to outline a longer work too, for example.

Meanwhile – see you at Les Misérables! Of course, I have to go again.

One comment

  1. Bhanu

    The May Queen’s Maid Wears Monkey Boots!

    Dazzling, hilarious post, book-doctor. I love the comparison between your outfit and Anne Hathaway’s. So encouraging to read your Friday Night Experiments.

    Thank you for sharing — glimpses and bites.

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