Sorry, another serious post. My next one will be funny. I promise I haven’t lost my sense of humor.
So last night, I’m laying spread-eagle on the floor of my bedroom, in my footie pajamas of course, listening to Les Misérables‘ “I Dreamed a Dream” over and over and over and having various thoughts about the interpretation of this particular song. This is a song that is usually sung pretty aggressively by a powerful female singer oozing with broadway poise and talent. I know this is necessary; people pay hundreds of dollars to see these actors perform on the big stage, but I’ve always wondered how the song would be sung by Fantine if she existed in real life. She is a destitute, unmarried mother in the 19th century driven to prostitution and selling her hair (right after she sings this song) to pay for her daughter’s upkeep in an abusive home miles away.
Here is one of my favorite performances by Ruthie Henshall, the epitome of the poised and talented Broadway actor in a clean, proper costume and styled wig, but very capable of projecting the character’s desperation and bittersweet nostalgia. While you’re listening/watching, think of a time in your life when everything had just gone to shit (sorry for the swears), your mouth thick with the metallic taste of bitterness and regret, and then try not to burst into tears, I DARE you:
Not really the same as when Susan Boyle sings it, huh? When she first became known, people thought this song was actually about hope and coincided with Boyle’s Cinderella-type story. Yet, when you read the words, you’ll see that this song is definitely not about those things:
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
I dreamed a dream in times gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame
He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came
And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we’ll live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.
Not really about rainbows and marshmallow ponies, is it?
So back to the character of Fantine and how the song is sung; in my mind, as I read these lyrics, I imagine a woman who is truly and utterly broken; she has been fired from her job and life has just shoved her off the curb she was painstakingly balancing upon out into the icy, muddy street where she is forced to dodge the uncaring and abusive traffic of her community (if you could call it that). She is remembering a time when things were better, when she was loved by someone, and there is a mixture of fondness and pain. She then moves forward to do whatever it takes to live so she can continue to care for her daughter financially, which in those days (and these, too) meant literally selling your body. Though Anne Hathaway is not nearly as good a singer as Ruthie Henshall, the way she sings it in the upcoming movie based on Les Misérables is quite different:
It’s only the trailer (the movie premiers this Christmas) but you can tell that this song is sung after she has cut her hair and probably already entered into prostitution. She is sitting in the filthy gutter with inadequate clothing, clutching her shorn hair in agony as she faces her future in disbelief. She is wallowing in her sadness, singly softly in the dark as she quietly reminisces. I like this more intimate portrayal (I realize that movie actors have this benefit over stage actors) because I think it shows what wallowing really looks like. She isn’t singing about what she’s going to do next or how she’s going to keep a positive outlook, she’s just voicing how much her life sucks and I think that’s okay. Everyone should be allowed to wallow by themselves without people telling them how to act or what to do or how to exact revenge. It’s okay to take a look at your situation and say “Wow, this really sucks,” and then that’s it!
I can’t relate to Fantine’s level of desperation since I still have a great job, a really nice place to live, and the love of my friends and family, but when I listen to this song I can understand that feeling of looking back and seeing where things were at a certain era in my life, what expectations and, well, dreams I had. There is also that lingering hope that things will work out and go back to the way they were before, which just makes you feel pitiful at times. Welp, I think I’ve already wallowed as much as I need so I’m moving on. I believe I’m entering a new era of my life and it’s exciting, but still bittersweet. The tigers came and tore it up for a while, I suffer from intense nostalgia just from certain smells and songs, but I have something to look forward to: brand new dreams. MY dreams.