Unless you've been under a rock for the past week, I'm sure you've heard of or seen the new British "sensation," Susan Boyle. Susan is a 47 year old, unemployed, never been married (or kissed) English woman, who many would describe as "frumpy." She was recently seen on Britain's Got Talent, where she gave audience members, judges, and now 34 million and counting YouTube viewers the shock of their lives. (If you have not seen the video, go YouTube it now... trust me, you won't regret it.)
Susan sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Mis. And as I watched this video for the first time last week (I have since watched it several more times), I was brought to tears, just like millions of people before me. But was it just the "surprise" of the angelic, pure voice coming from this sweet, unassuming woman that did it? No, I knew it was more than that. It was the music. It was her PERFECT choice of song selection, matched with her honest character (which shone so clearly through her disheveled hair, bushy eyebrows, snug-fitting frock, dark stockings and beige heels).
"I Dreamed a Dream." And she did. She dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hopes were high, and life worth living. That is evident. Before beginning her performance, Susan told the judges she aspired to be like Elaine Page. Her dream. But was it too late? In that moment on stage, she became Fantine: the aged-beyond-her-years single mother, struggling to find security in life and in love. Struggling to achieve her dreams, for herself and for her daughter. And finally succumbing to the fact that her dream has been killed... by life.
Les Mis has been my favorite musical since it was first performed on Broadway in the late 1980s. No, I did not see it at that age, I saw it for the first time performed by a traveling cast at West Point's Theatre when I was 8 years old. But my oldest sister saw it on Broadway when it opened- and as a junior in HS, she was so moved by the story, music, characters, and lyrics, she came home and gave anyone who would listen a play-by-play, equipped with the soundtrack and a large picture book. And I listened. I was enamored with Les Mis from the first note, from the first word my sister told me about it.
As a 6 year old, I was mesmerized with the character of Young Cosette. She was the one I could relate to. No, I wasn't an orphaned French girl, put to work by her foster "parents" like Cinderella... but I was a young girl, and a dreamer like Cosette. When my mother (who also fell in love with the soundtrack my sister brought home with her) would play the CD, I would sneak downstairs and act out the scene to "Castle on a Cloud."
When I entered junior high school, suddenly I was drawn to a different character. Still a dreamer at heart, I could "relate" to Cosette as she, too, aged in the musical... however, my dreams were now much more focused on love. Crushes on boys, that never turned into anything more. Helpless romantic that I was, I would dream that my crush of the moment would one day turn to me and say I was the one... but, like another character in Les Mis, I quickly discovered I was on my own. I was Eponine. And like Eponine, I continued to watch as the boys I so desperately sought to attract would date other girls... and ignore me. By this time, I had my own CD of Les Mis, so I would blare it in my bedroom, and act out the scenes to "On My Own," "A Heart Full of Love," and "A Little Fall of Rain."
And now a new shift in characters has seemingly taken place. I no longer feel the pain of Eponine (thank GOD... teenage angst really does suck)! But as I watched Susan Boyle sing the words of Fantine, and emote them so poignantly, I realized right away why the tears were streaming down my face. I am now the dreamer in Fantine.
In my (not-so-distant) youth, it seemed nothing could go wrong. I had found the man of my dreams, and married him. I had big dreams for our life, for our future together. No song was unsung, no wine was untasted, as we embarked on our journey together 3 years ago.
But as my life has gone on, it has become increasingly more clear that "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."
And with those final words of Fantine's song, there is a resolution. A resolution to the fact that the life of "dreaming" has come to an end. No more little girl fantasies of beautiful ladies in castles in the sky. No more teenage dreams of a love that fills you to the very core and satisfies your every need. And no more dreams of a young adult, hoping to turn back the clocks and live once again in blissful ignorance of what was to come of her life.
But it was more than my connection to Fantine in Susan Boyle's performance that moved me. At the moment Susan sang those final words of resolution- - when she, herself, was feeling the resolution of "this is my final dream of singing, and then I must accept my life as it is- not the dream I had dreamed, but the hell it has become," there was a most incredible paradox happening. The audience was on its feet. The cheers were so loud one could hardly hear the final notes Susan sang. The judges had tears in their eyes and bottom jaws were dropped. This was not in alignment with the "resolution" and closing of "I Dreamed a Dream." Instead, Susan was receiving validation, justification, that her dream has NOT been killed. Her dream MUST go on.
And in that moment, I not only connected to Fantine, but I connected to Susan. How must she have felt to see all of those people giving her a standing ovation? How did she feel to triumphantly march off the stage as the applause rumbled on behind her (and the judges had to yell out to bring her back for their comments!)? She must have felt pretty damn good.
Sometimes all we need is a cheering section to let us know our dreams ARE attainable. You, my friends, have been my cheering section. Every time I feel like resigning, and singing the final bar of my "dream" song, your applause keeps me going. And I don't know just how to repay you for that gift, except to cheer right back for you, and others who dream our dream.
This is the lesson I've learned from Susan Boyle.