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December 08, 1989 - Image 86

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-08

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Jewish Actors Talk
Of 'Les Miz' And Religion

KENNETH JONES

Special to The Jewish News

W

hen Daniel Eli
Friedman was pre-
paring for his role
in the musical Les Miserables,
a show laden with references
to Catholicism and Chris-
tianity, he wondered how, as
a Jew, he could relate to it.
What Friedman discovered
was the same thing his fellow
company members and au-
diences already knew:
Despite specific references to
the French Christian society
of the early 1800s, when the
show takes place, the message
of Les Miserables, is
universal.
"You see images of crosses
on stage in the lighting; it's
taking place in a Christian
society," says Friedman, 26, in
an interview prior to a recent
performance at- Detroit's
Fisher Theater, where the
show plays through Dec. 31.
"I was questioning how I
could fit into all of this. I
came up with ideas of mitz-
vot, doing good for people;
tzedakah, giving back to
society what you've taken
from it. Helping the wretch-
ed poor of the earth: It's a
universal theme."
Friedman, who says he
grew up in a "Conservadox"
Jewish home in Los Angeles,
joined the first national tour-
ing company of Les
Miserables
this past
September. He is a "swing"
player who covers all the
males roles in the ensemble.
Before his connection with
Les Miz, as the show is affec-
tionately called, Friedman
earned a bachelor's degree in
theater from UCLA and was
an associate cantor at his
synagogue.
Les Miserables is based on
the expansive 1862 Victor
Hugo novel which docu-
mented the lives of "the
miserables ones" — victims of
the squalid social conditions
in 19th-century France. It
details the life of Jean Val-
jean, a fugitive whose bit-
terness is replaced with love
when a tender bishop
deomonstrates mercy and
forgiveness.
The climax of the musical
takes place in Paris during
the failed student insurrec-
tion of 1832. In many ways,
the 1987 musical is about
changing the world.
"It is a theme in Judaism:
Getting involved and taking
a stand for something," says
Friedman. "That's what's ex-
citing for me."

"In a sense, the thrust of
the show is Judeo-Christian;
it's a shared heritage," says
Andy Gale, 22, a two-year
veteran of the touring com-
pany who grew up in a
secular Jewish home in New
York and, later, the Deep
South. "It reflects the shared
heritage from the Old Testa-
ment. 'Love thy neighbor as
thyself' is from Leviticus.
"I think it is a religious
show if you wish to see it that
way. It's also a very secular
show, and the (novel) is a very
secular book. The spelled-out
aims of Victor Hugo in
writing the book, among
other things, were secular:
Education, for example. If

"I think it is a
religious show if
you wish to see it
that way. It's also
a very secular
show.

people could learn to read and
write, they would not have
been as downtrodden as they
were."
Although the show pro-
motes the idea that "to love
another person is to see the
face of God," Gale and Fried-
man say the idea of God can
be as generic as you wish.
"You don't have to be
religious to get it," says Gale.
"You don't have to define God
in the usual way."
The characters in Les Miz
do not find satisfaction in
their lifetimes. The dogmatic
and pious Inspector Javert,
who tirelessly hounds Val-
jean, believes the reward will
be found at "the doorway to
Paradise" after following "the
path of the righteous."
"His Paradise is hereafter;
it's not present-day," says
Gale. "That's distinctly what
Victor Hugo wanted to
change: The life for people in
this world. A rabbi had once
said, 'The definition of
hereafter is how you are
remembered by people you
have done good with in this
world. "
On the subject of universal
musicals with religious
references, Gale compares
Fiddler on the Roof based on
the stories of Sholem
Aleichem, with Les Miz.
The style and tone of Les
Miz — dark and sometimes
doom-laden — reflect .the
background of the French-
Catholic society of the time,
says Gale.
Fiddler, with all its horror

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