“i believe most people are inherently good. they just need an opportunity to show that goodness.” colm wilkinson is standing at the edge of the stage in toronto’s princess of wales theatre. still in costume, wilkinson has just finished a one-off charity performance as the bishop in new rendition of les miserables. the crowd is silent, listening.
when i was growing up, eponine was my hero. other girls loved the spice girls or britney spears, but eponine remained someone i looked up to. a steadfast symbol of love against all odds, a fiesty, spirited young woman; the tragic heroine of les miserables. “on my own” was an anthem, in a half-twisted, half-poignant way. we owned the VHS of the 10th anniversary concert – i watched it religiously. it filled my days with endless wonder, so to speak. growing up, my family didn’t (and still doesn’t) always get along. there wasn’t much we agreed on. not much, except les mis. maybe that’s why the music means so much to me – listening to it today brings me instantly back to performing “castle on a cloud” with my sisters, crying during the same moments of every performance as my mom, or hearing my dad hum “do you hear the people sing?” in the car. what’s more is that it’s the one thing we all continue to have in common today. people often wonder why les mis is so important to me…i wonder if the answer is simply that few things have been more special in my life than, for instance, hearing colm wilkinson sing the bishop’s dulcet tones with my mom and sister beside me.
i’ve seen les mis five times on stage – i’ll be attending my first broadway rendition at the end of march. like hearing your favourite band play, the show never loses its significance. the second the overture swells from the orchestra, i get chills. the music awakens this emotion in me that i’ve never known quite what to do with, or how to feel about it. i can never tell if i’m crying because the story is so compelling, because the actors sing so passionately, or because the music is just that beautiful. there are few things that move me the way music does, and the music of les mis is white light, always.
the cast in the most recent version, starring ramin karimloo as jean valjean, takes the musical to new heights. at the charity performance i mentioned earlier, colm wilkinson’s (the original, and best, jean val jean) performance is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most people in the audience, and a complete dream come true. the man is a legend. his performance in phantom inspired karimloo to pursue theatre. i once read a youtube comment on an old video of wilkinson singing “bring him home” (above) at a concert that mused “i love colm’s smile when the audience starts cheering before he even starts to sing. the same kind of smile your grandpa would give you before he starts to tell a story he’s told a thousand times, but he doesn’t mind repeating it because he knows how much you love hearing it.”
“if there’s one thing i hope you take away from this show…it’s that line from the epilogue, ‘tomorrow comes,'” wilkinson continues, “well, after you go home tonight, and tomorrow comes, these charities will still be there and they’ll still need our help.” a touching nod to the charities in whose honour the charity performance was held. applause, then quiet. the crowd is holding their breath, they know what’s coming. the orchestra falls into the first chords of “bring him home.” karimloo takes the first verse, and then, smiling that knowing smile, wilkinson begins to sing.