Back in another life, I dreamed a dream of writing Broadway musicals. And I actually got a bit closer than most: The Don Juan and the Non Don Juan, an ungainly-titled off-Broadway musical flop that opened and quickly closed in December 1991. You can read the bad review in the New York Times if you really want to rub salt in my wounds.
It wasn't a pleasant experience. Too many collaborators and too many internal disputes that ultimately led to my name being wrongly dropped from the book credit at the last minute. When I complained to my agent about the slight, he calmly asked me, "Is the book any good?" "No," I replied. "Then why would you want your name on it?" he wisely asked. Yeah, but still....
If you think politics is bad in politics, you've never seen the political machinations behind New York theater.
Of course, the memories aren't all bad, and one of my fondest is of the auditions—sitting in the back of a small room at the Vineyard Theatre, as a nearly endless stream of the most amazingly talented actresses competed for the four female roles in our crappy little show. Theater is a fickle business. One day you're workshopping Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, and the next day you're auditioning before a twenty-something unknown snot like me.
The hit musical Les Miserables had been running for about six years by that time, and between Broadway and London and the various touring companies, it seemed like nearly half the actors in New York had Les Miz on their resume. At one point, as a nod to this embarrassment of riches belting show tunes before us, I ironically scribbled on one of the audition sheets: "Ho-hum, another Fantine." Not all these Fantines were right for the role (we didn't end up casting any of them) but they were all incredible.
Well, I'm retelling this anecdote as a roundabout way of pointing to my review of the film version of Les Miz, a movie in which Anne Hathaway's Fantine is anything but ho-hum. There's been an awful lot of buzz about Hathaway's performance, particularly her heart-wrenching rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," and I have to say that despite these high expectations, I was blown away. I've no idea who the competition will be, but I'd be surprised if Hathaway isn't the Oscar favorite for best supporting actress.
The rest of the movie, well, that's a matter of personal taste. I never really loved Les Miz, despite having seen it twice on Broadway and once in London. But if you love the musical, you'll probably love the movie. The performances are for most part strong, and the film is at least as emotionally relentless as the stage show. Bring your tissues.
But even if you don't generally like musicals, you might want to buy a ticket anyway, if only for the opportunity to see Hathaway give one of the greatest movie musical performances of all time. Really. She's that good. As a former aspiring lyricist myself, I can only dream of an actress giving life to one of my songs the way Hathaway transforms this sad, pretty ballad into one of the most moving moments I've ever experienced in a darkened theater.