This Week's Guest: Michael Blutrich
According to the FBI, my guest this week was involved in one of the largest fraud schemes in history -- the nearly half-billion dollar failure of the National Heritage Life Insurance Company, which had 26,000 elderly policyholders. While Michael Blutrich was involved in the insurance scheme, he was also running a strip club called Scores that had mafia ties, and he secretly recorded conversations that helped the government convict numerous organized crime figures. Before his life took a turn towards crime, he was closeted, choosing to avoid the gay community during the AIDS crisis. Now after more than a decade behind bars, he's out of prison, out of the closet, and wondering if he has a place in society and in gay culture.
We'll have that conversation in just a moment. But first, a quick note: this show is supported by listeners who pledge a dollar or more per episode on Patreon. You might've heard that Patreon was planning to make some changes to the way that they process fees. But they've just announced that for now, those changes won't be happening. So, if you're a supporter, thanks for sticking with the show. Your pledge will continue to be exactly what it was before. The show is only possible because of that listener support -- huge thanks to this week's new and increasing donors, David, Michael, and Darren. If you'd like to join the folks who make The Sewers of Paris possible, head over to SewersOfParis.com and click Support the Show on Patreon.
This Week's Recommendation: Master of the House and Beggars at the Feast
For this week's recommendation, I asked friends on Facebook to suggest Broadway shows about crime and injustice. Thanks to everyone who suggested Sweeney Todd, Urinetown, Wicked, Assassins, Chicago, Parade, Ragtime, Batboy, and many more. And I'm going to recommend that you take a look at the beautifully produced 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis -- there's a link in the shownotes -- particularly two songs: Master of the House, and Beggars at the Feast.
In those songs, Matt Lucas -- you may know him as the only gay in the village from Little Britain -- plays Monsieur Thénardier, who calls himself "the best innkeeper in town," while running every moneymaking scheme he can think of. It's a very fun number, heightened by the comedic relish with which Lucas explains his dealmaking: "Glad to do a friend a favor," he sings, "doesn't cost me to be nice. But nothing gets you nothing; everything has got a little price."
At one point, the pure-hearted hero of the show, Jean Valjean, is captured by the Thénardiers. They discover his identity and inform on him to the law. Valjean narrowly escapes, as does Thénardier, who is able to survive by hiding himself in the sewers of Paris.
Our last glimpse of the character comes at the end of the play. Valjean has retreated from public eye, knowing that his criminal past threatens those he cares for; and Thénardier takes advantage of his absense to reappear under a new name.
In disguise, he tries once more to wring money from the heroes, but inadvertently reveals himself, reveals his deceit, and, crucially, reveals acts of kindness by Valjean that until then had gone unknown. At the last possible moment, our heroes learn of Valjean's great personal sacrifices, and are able to thank him before he dies.
The Thénardiers are ceaseless schemers. But ultimately they do illuminate a moral compass, providing clues as to what's right by showing what's wrong. Their voices may not be trustworthy -- but that doesn't mean there isn't be a benefit to thinking about what they choose to say.