(Yeah, yeah, Les Mis again. For those of you reading this on Google Reader, pop over to my blog—I’ve actually started an “obsessing over Les Mis” tag.)
I think most popular musicals have one underrated song—the one that, when you first hear it, makes you wonder why you haven’t heard it before. For Wicked, it’s “The Wizard and I.” For Rent, it’s “Santa Fe.” And for Les Mis, it’s “Who Am I?”
This song comes at a point in the musical where Jean Valjean has learned that another man has been arrested and brought to court for his own crimes. In the song, he ponders what to do—should he say nothing, condemning an innocent man but also ensuring that the lives of the workers in the factory he oversees are not upset and that he will be able to care for Fantine’s daughter when she dies? Or should he go to court to set the man free, remembering the lesson he was taught years ago that set him on the path to reforming his life?
I love this song because it succinctly captures a moral dilemma without sacrificing the complexity of it. Valjean struggles with his identity—is he the mayor and factory owner responsible for the employment of many workers, or is he still the convict with the prison number 24601? Is he someone who can abandon those who depend on him? Is he someone who can let an innocent man suffer for his own crimes? Is he still the man he became after making the promise to the bishop years ago? Is he someone who can face the consequences of whatever decision he makes?
I wish I could find a good YouTube clip of the staging of this song. It starts out with Jean Valjean singing alone on a dark stage, and as it crecendos into the line, “Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean!” the courtroom where the innocent man is on trial appears behind him. When he gets to the last line, “Who am I? 2-4-6-0-1!”* he reveals his prison tattoo. But the brilliant Colm Wilkinson’s version here, at the 10th anniversary concert, is excellent.
IS IT CHRISTMAS DAY YET? AAAAAHHHH!!!!!
*Incidentally, these were the first words I ever wrote on this blog.