On Wednesday of this week, October 14, Herbert Kretzmer, the lyricist who wrote the English-language songs for Broadway (and Hollywood)’s adaptation of a little-known French musical we now know as Les Mis, died just a few days after his 95th birthday.

The NYT obit describes Kretzmer’s beginnings as “a South African journalist who sold his accordion to buy passage to Europe” in the 1950s. In London he distinguished himself as a film and theater critic, and it was while supporting himself as a critic that he took up music again, much to the critics’ dismay. Les Mis offended the sensibilities of most of the critics who reviewed it, but audiences loved it anyways – opening in 1987, the Broadway musical ran for 16 years.

I still remember when Les Mis first came to my home town – everyone at my elementary school was buzzing about it! I never saw it until Les Mis came to Hollywood, and even then I might’ve missed it if Russell Crowe hadn’t joined the cast, but I melted for Crowe’s Javert. Here’s an adaptation of the 25th Psalm in honor of Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics for Javert’s “Stars.”

To you, the sentinel stars, I lift my heart.
Your order I trust. Let me not be ashamed,
let me take on this fugitive face to face.
Yes, let those who love righteousness not be mocked.
Bring the lawless to heel, with his crimes laid bare.
Your ways in the heavens are my example,
in your courses you shine, your aims straight and sure.
Lead me in this darkness and show me the way,
for you are the watchers, who find those who stray.
To you alone I have always looked for faith.
Recalling your constancy, silent and bright,
your celestial kindness, guarding the night,
forget my lowly birth and my parents’ crimes.
You lifted my gaze from life in the gutters;
for the sake of your goodness, I serve the law.
Pure and upright are the gates of paradise –
you show those who fall the whirling, flaming sword.
The heavens lead the lowly, teach them justice,
and show the motherless that all is not lost.
All your laws’ precepts signal gentleness, truth,
and safety for the virtuous among us.
For the sake of these fair memories, O stars,
may you forgive this failure in my duty.
Whosoever the seeker who fears the law,
your light will guide him, showing him how to choose.
His life will want for nothing, for your bounty
will invest him and his progeny and theirs.
The stars will guide only those who fear trespass,
and to you through my oath I choose to be bound.
My eyes I raised each night to seek your guidance,
freed by your help from corruption’s bitter nets.
Turn to me, my night sky’s shining gaze, grant me
grace in my affliction, searching the gutters
alone in the dark. The strain has grown too great,
from this abyss of failure bring me away.
Witness my struggle and my hesitation
and grant me forbearance, for I have failed you.
See you my enemies teeming here below
who, with outrages to decency, spite me?
Safeguard my honor at this awful impasse.
Let me not falter now – I shelter in you.
May uprightness – integrity – preserve me,
for at this precipice, I offer you all.
Redeem, you stars, our Paris from corruption.

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Filed under Acting, Les Misérables, Music, Poetry, Roll Credits

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