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Play on words is not music to a few ears

January 28, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

I should warn all of you, particularly in the Williamsport area, that this column contains the word "jiggered," so anyone who might be offended by any real or implied meaning of this word should probably turn to another part of the paper.

After all, a small segment of the populace is up in arms because Williamsport High School is putting on a production of "Les Miserables" on April 11-13.

Personally, I'd like to thank the Williamsport drama group, the SophistiCats, because "Les Miz" includes one of my favorite songs in show-tune history, "Master of the House." In all likelihood, since I like it, that's probably the song that has people upset. It's sung by a vile lech of an innkeeper who wallows gleefully in his dishonesty:

Food beyond compare

Food beyond belief

Mix it in a mincer

And pretend it's beef

Kidney of a horse

Liver of a cat

Filling up the sausages

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With this and that

Considering our fast-food industry, one might judge that little has changed since the days of the French Revolution. Anyway, he continues:

Charge 'em for the lice

Extra for the mice

Two percent for looking in the mirror twice

Here a little slice

There a little cut

Three percent for sleeping with the window shut

I believe it is critical that people be exposed to a sampling of the lyrics in this Victor Hugo classic, because they will greatly pad this column, meaning that I have to do less actual work. But also, they go to prove that a tawdry word or two is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

In fact, "Les Miz" is a play whose theme is one of honor and patriotism and righteousness.

But do I hold that against it? Not at all, because I am a broad-minded individual who does not get down on a Broadway production just because it has a Christian message.

Toward the end, the innkeeper's wife breaks in to repudiate her husband's high opinion of himself.

Cunning little brain

Regular Voltaire

Thinks he's quite a lover

But there's not much there

What a cruel trick of nature

Landed me with such a louse

God knows how I've lasted

Living with this bastard in the house!

Ah, there's the problem. That's the way it works - toss a bastard or two into a play with about 6 million other words, and that's all people notice. It's easy to get riled up over one single word - the rest of the play makes you think, and heaven knows we can't have that.

Frankly, I'm surprised the people who are upset with this artistic classic managed to pry themselves away from Joe Millionaire or the Keno game, or whatever modern-day trash they happen to be mesmerizing themselves with, long enough to complain: "That's right barkeep. And ANOTHER thing! The stuff they're putting in the minds of our young people is TERRIBLE! Now bring me $20 worth of tips and another pitcher of beer."

The buzzword they always use trying to get something censored is "mature themes." Of course when your education tops out shortly after middle school, any theme you encounter in life is likely to appear mature.

People should count their blessings. What if the lyrics to "Les Miserables" had been re-jiggered by Eminem or Snoop Dog?

Bleep bleep of the bleep bleepin house

Keeper of the bleep bleepin zoo

Ready to bleeeeeeeeep

Of a bleep bleep or two

So to review, here you have the Williamsport SophistiCats working hard after school, involved in the mastering and presentation of a classic if gritty piece of uplifting literature, while some of their classmates are out in the shopping center parking lot listening to gangsta rap.

I'll take a bastard or two any day.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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