Last weekend, I and three really good friends of varying ages did the proverbial girls’ night out and saw Les Miserables. It’s been getting great reviews and they were all right. It really was spectacular. I’ve seen the show before, in fact, this was my fourth time (I think?) and as usual, I bawled my way through it. This time, I came prepared —I brought an entire box of tissues, rather than those measly little 10-packs that only last through the first act.
The Boy thinks Les Mis is sort of obvious, deliberately pushing tearjerker buttons and sure… but so do many movies and books and I have to admit, I love a well-done tearjerker every now and again. And this show does it very well. There’s soaring and stirring music I love, songs that make me feel something and moments both big and small to make you lose your breath. And I did, several times. Most had to do with Ramin Karimloo who plays Jean Valjean. Incredible voice. When he sang Bring Him Home, I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe for the whole song. You can hear that, plus a few other show stoppers on the CBC website.
Les Mis is about the lives of the downtrodden, the poor and the invisible in our society. It’s about redemption, solidarity and the fight against oppression. It is almost 3 hours of making misery visible (and entertaining, odd as it may seem).
After the show, the theater let out on the streets of Toronto in the Entertainment District, along with a number of other shows. As audiences spilled out on the sidewalks, all dressed nicely, with fancy shoes, the good jewelry and full of excitement, carrying souvenirs and, in the case of the audience from Les Mis, crumpled up, damp tissues. In a stream, we moved towards the light at the corner and went past two people sitting on the sidewalk, each with a cup and asking for change. It was a man and a woman, their hair hadn’t been washed in a while, there were several missing teeth and the clothes were ratty and dirty. They looked very much like the actors on stage, except those had gotten there by makeup and these two got there naturally.
And not one person walking past them stopped to give them a quarter. There we were, dressed in nice clothes, going to the subway or our cars to get back to nice, warm homes after a wonderful evening out that came with the ticket price tag of somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 each. The disconnect between having paid a lot of money to see a wonderful show about the downtrodden and the poor, and then 10 minutes later walking past two actual downtrodden and poor people as if they were invisible was soul jarring.
I went by them, too. For a few steps. And then I turned around and gave them a lot more than a quarter.
It’s so easy to dismiss the homeless and the poor. We like to talk about how we manage to pay the rent or that they “choose” to be homeless. But what would happen if we lost our jobs? If we got sick? Many of us are financially overextended and living paycheque to paycheque. Years ago, when then-Premier Mike Harris dissolved programs and halfway houses for people with psychiatric disabilities, the homeless population in my neighborhood increased tenfold. Does that mean they chose to be homeless? Can you make that choice when you’re sick and your treatment and support disappears? And even if it were a choice, does that mean someone deserves to go hungry?
I wish I could give more money to the home as I encounter when I go grocery shopping. I do when I can and I don’t care what they use that money for. My money doesn’t come with conditions, because I get to go home to a nice apartment with running water to put away the groceries I just bought. And they don’t.