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Penkava: When husbands become Les Miserables

Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

I am a sucker for musicals. I think it all started with “The Wizard of Oz.”

I was 7 years old when I first saw it on television. I had heard that the first part of the movie would be in black-and-white, and when Dorothy landed in Munchkin Land, it would switch to color. I couldn’t wait for that part, but when it came, I was utterly disappointed to see that the Yellow Brick Road was a boring shade of dingy grey.

“Mom,” I complained, “it’s still black-and-white!”

“Michael,” she gently reasoned, “you need a color television to see color. We don’t have one. Just pretend you see the colors.”

So I pretended, and, you know what? She was right! I remember actually seeing the colors. Man, if ever, oh ever, a whiz there was, my mom was one because, because. So I happily sang along in the merry old land of Oz.

Later musicals had me “do-re-meing” to the “Sound of Music” and “‘chim-chim-cher-eeing” with Mary Poppins. As a teenager, I found myself hopelessly devoted to Olivia Newton-John of “Grease,” and even as an adult “The Little Mermaid” had me rocking under the sea.

But I really became obsessed with “Joseph.” My wife and I went to see the live performance in Chicago. I bought the videotape and memorized all the songs. My kids didn’t mind my singing, but they made me take down the Donny Osmond poster I had hanging in my bedroom.

Now that’s not to say that I only enjoy musicals. I can always go for a good action-adventure movie. Of course, I wouldn’t mind it if James Bond broke out in song during a car chase scene. I can hear him now, singing, “Mamma Mia … here I go again!” as he screeches his Aston Martin around an Italian mountainside switchback.

This year when the movie “Les Miserables” came out, I couldn’t wait to see it. Just the thought of two hours and 37 minutes of singing had me warming up my voice and brushing up on my Victor Hugo. Plus, I was really curious to hear Russell Crowe sing. Could a man with a beautiful mind also have a beautiful voice?

So we went to see the movie. It was amazing! The only low point was when I had to go to the bathroom halfway through it. I sprinted to the washroom where there were two other men. I wondered if they had come from the same movie as me. I soon found out as I listened in on their conversation …

Man at Urinal #1: “I can’t believe I let my wife talk me into seeing this movie!”

Man at Urinal #3: “There’s no dialogue! All they’re doing is singing, for crying out loud!”

Me at Urinal #5: “But Russell Crowe sure has a nice voice.”

Suddenly there was a crashing silence. Then two concurrent flushes. I felt the heat of their glares and did not dare make eye contact with them. I waited until I was sure they had gone back into the movie before I sneaked back to my seat. Sure, I had spoken up and defended the musical genre, but I didn’t want to start a revolution. Geesh.

When we returned home, I went directly to YouTube and watched a bunch of “Les Mis” songs. Over and over. I lulled myself to sleep that night humming to Jean Valjean and Javert and Fantine. I think I even dreamed a dream.

The next day I couldn’t get the songs out of my head. I remember bursting into the kitchen as my wife was preparing breakfast, spontaneously singing, “Master of the house, looking for his food, pancakes with some syrup put him in a good mood!”

I remember my wife looking at me and softly replying in song, “One day more…”

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is currently working on a new column concept called, “Just Humor Me, The Musical.” He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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