An Evening with the Legendary Colm Wilkinson

An Evening with the Legendary Colm Wilkinson


I was looking through some of the photographs on my phone the other day and I stumbled upon the one on the right, which was taken just this past December.  With all the hype surrounding the latest film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s play, it’s not that unusual to find members of the younger generation who have never heard of Les Misérables, the musical from whence iconic songs like “On My Own”, “I Dreamed A Dream”, and “Bring Him Home” hail.  I would also be far from surprised if, when asked about the actor who played Jean Valjean, Hugh Jackman’s name is the only one to come to mind.  But I’d like to change that.  And although the range of my influence extends only so far as to the poor, unsuspecting souls in my classroom and the handful of friends whose daily lives fill up my newsfeed on Facebook, I will do my small part to make sure those around me know Colm Wilkinson, the legend.

Colm Wilkinson - WM

Wilkinson was born on 5 June 1944 in Drimnagh, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland.  He is one of 10 children born to a very musical family.  Although he worked for the family business for a while, after visiting the US on tour when he was 16, Wilkinson decided that devoting his time to music was more his calling.  He was part of a few Irish bands before being cast as Judas Iscariot in the Dublin production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  Some of his other roles and singing parts included Che in the Evita concept album, Dr. Jekyll in the Jekyll and Hyde concept album, and the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera at the Sydmonton Festival on Webber’s estate.

Colm Wilkinson - JVJ

Perhaps the role for which he is rightfully most recognized is that of Jean Valjean in the original London production of Les Misérables.  Wilkinson played the ex-con in England’s capital for two years until—after a stand-off between the American Actors’ Equity Association and Les Mis producer, Cameron Mackintosh—he and the show moved to Broadway in the spring of 1987.  In 1989, Wilkinson relocated with his entire family to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, upon being offered the titular role in the original Toronto production of The Phantom.  In 1995, Wilkinson was part of an all-star cast that celebrated the 10th anniversary of Les Mis.  Fellow castmates included Phillip Quast, Michael Ball, Judy Kuhn, and Lea Salonga.

In recent years, Wilkinson has been touring in concerts around the world, many of which are held in Canada and the UK.  He appeared on the small screen as Lord Darcy in The Tudors, and he was part of US Senator Ted Kennedy’s birthday celebration and memorial service in 2009.  He celebrated the 25th anniversary of Les Mis, held at the O2 arena in London in 2010, with a special appearance and performance at the end of the show.  And to bring his Valjean role to full circle, Wilkinson played the Bishop of Digne in the 2012 movie (yes, the one with Hugh Jackman).  There was an especially poignant moment at the end of the movie when Wilkinson’s Bishop offers his hand to Jackman’s Valjean, which was a very gracious and noble nod to Wilkinson’s contribution to the musical’s success.

If you have never had the opportunity to hear Colm Wilkinson live, I highly suggest you do so.  Tickets are not cheap, but venues sell out quickly, which clearly demonstrates that the tickets are more than worth it.  Moreover, his CDs, all of which he graciously autographs beforehand, are available for sale during the event.  Wilkinson will entertain you with his humorous anecdotes and touching tributes.  And of course, you will be mesmerized by the range and calibre of his voice: You will walk away from the concert marvelling at the notion that you were just in the same room as such an esteemed and talented artist.  At the concert that we attended, Wilkinson wowed us with choices from his latest album, “Broadway and Beyond: The Concert Songs”.  His songs ranged from renowned classics like “Music of the Night” and “This is the Moment” to memorable melodies such as “Hallelujah” and “Whiskey in the Jar”.  The audience collectively held its breath (and let tears fall) during his touching rendition of “Danny Boy”, which he sung with such lyrical emotion that it almost felt like we had all just lost a loved one.  Such is the magic of Colm Wilkinson.

Colm Wilkinson - Tix - WM

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (vs HP7-2)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (vs HP7-2)

My husband and I went to see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 over the weekend, and I must say I was a little disappointed.  I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a long-anticipated movie-franchise finale.  Director Bill Condon and Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment really blew me away, although to be fair, they’ve done to the Twilight movies all along what Warner Bros. didn’t do for Harry Potter: remain faithful to the story.  And as a bookworm by birth, staying true to a novel is what makes it or breaks it for me when it comes to book-to-film adaptations.

Butterbeer

I am a huge Harry Potter fan.  I’ve read each novel several times (Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows are my favourites) and can quote or reference practically any passage; my iPod functions only to play the seven audiobooks; and the last thing on the screen before my TV puts itself to sleep is one of the eight movies (Philosopher’s Stone and Goblet of Fire usually).  As if that weren’t enough, I dragged my husband down to Orlando to stand in line for 8.5 hours during a heat wave on 18 June 2010 (the opening day of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios).  Despite all of this, the movies have really left me wanting.  While I completely understand the need to make adjustments when jumping from page to reel, I question many of the changes that the studio execs made.  The movies with which I was most disappointed were, sadly, the ones I had anticipated the most: the ultimate and penultimate installments that would close the door on a wonderful decade-long adventure.  I remember my excitement when I finally reached the last few pages of Deathly Hallows, and I imagined how they would be played out on screen.  One of the most riveting scenes in the entire series is the one where Harry and Voldy cast their final spells at each other:

And Harry, with the unerring skill of the Seeker, caught the wand in his free hand as Voldemort fell backward, arms splayed, the slit pupils of the scarlet eyes rolling upward … Voldemort was dead, killed by his own rebounding curse, and Harry stood with two wands in his hands, staring down at his enemy’s shell.  One shivering second of silence, the shock of the moment suspend: and then the tumult broke around Harry as the screams and the cheers and the roars of the watchers rent the air.  (DH 744)

What makes this scene so great is that Harry is able to defeat his enemy without ever using the Avada Kedavra spell, and that he does so while being surrounded by his friends for whom he (mere moments before) willingly sacrificed his life.  Couldn’t you imagine the edge-of-your-seat suspense as Harry and Voldy dance in a circle, aware of everyone else in the room yet never taking their eyes off one another?  If you’re like me, didn’t you hold your breath while reading this passage for the first time and then re-read it as soon as it was over?  Didn’t you just visualize the scene of Harry and Voldy casting their spells, creating jets of red and green lights, then a lone wand arcing over the space between them, and Harry skilfully catching it as Voldy drops to the floor?  Couldn’t you just hear that celebratory roar, perhaps joining in from the comforts of your bedroom?  Even now, I get a little breathless remembering the thrill of reading those words for the very first time.  But none of it was depicted in the movie (except for the lights).  And for all the love I have for the Harry Potter world, I left the theatre at the end of the midnight showing feeling a little cheated of that hero moment that I had imagined over and over in my mind since the day I read the epilogue.

Breaking Dawn

But Twilight got it right.  And for a series that I didn’t particularly enjoy until the very last book, and for a collection of movies that made me feel as languid as I did when I read the novels, it wowed me.  The Twilight movies were like a choir that bumbled its way through some of the more difficult notes, making the audience cringe in awkwardness at times, but harmonizing on the very last chord.  I won’t give any spoilers here.  I will only say that whether you are a fan of the story or not, you will appreciate the exemplary ending of this movie up to and including the farewell to the cast whose efforts brought the novels to life.

And if you’re a Harry Potter fan like me who was desperately looking forward to some heroic fighting and festlichkeit, you will walk away slightly disappointed that that other YA blockbuster fulfilled your desires instead.  Go see the movie.