When a story transcends, it usually is because of its unwavering themes. Love, courage, empathy, and resilience, to name a few, are some themes that cut across many generations, never losing their relevance. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is among the classics that endure time and space. The novel’s themes are universal and continue to strike a chord. This masterpiece sits as one of those untouchable classics that urges people to continue being driven despite their many struggles. Les Misérables’s theme has always touched on the best side of human nature.
Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil took the responsibility to adapt the cherished French novel to a stage adaptation into a glorious, heavily compelling musical in 1980. And it did not take long to be popularized, thanks to producer Cameron Mackintosh creating an English version. This musical never fails to win audiences with its stirring music, unfiltered acting, and cleverly crafted story. This glorious musical, the finest in modern history, will be gracing the Buell Theatre this May. See it live and hear the people sing!
“At this point, Les Miserables is entrenched in our culture as a musical for the ages.” — Huffington Post
“A thrilling inspiration.” — The Guardian
“Les Misérables is a show about courage, love, heartbreak, passion, and the resilience of the human spirit.” — World Youth Alliance
Les Miserables was conceived after Alain Boublil was inspired while watching the classic musical Oliver! in London. The French songwriter details that the idea of a character narrating Victor Hugo’s novel came to mind during the performances. After this, composer Claude-Michel Schönberg was approached and told of the concept. The encounter led them to immediately start working on a rough synopsis. Their first work then came out as a French concept album. Because it revealed potential, they decided to turn it into a musical. At the Palais des Sports in 1980, the first musical staging of Les Misérables was performed.
The concept album would then capture the attention of director Peter Farago, and later on, it would reach the hands of Cameron Mackintosh, who was working on Cats on Broadway at that time. Farago was infatuated with a song from the concept album and asserted that Mackintosh produced the English version of the musical. Mackintosh was initially uninterested in the proposal but later agreed. He collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company and established a production team to translate the musical into English. This includes Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics, supplementary musical reworks by James Fenton, Trevor Nunn and John Caird’s direction, set design by John Napier, Andreane Neofitou’s costume, David Hersey’s lighting, and John Cameron’s orchestration.
Set in 1815 Paris, the musical plot revolves around multiple characters: Jean Valjean, the fierce advocate Marius Pontmercy, Fantine, Cosette, Eponine, and Inspector Javert. They are the “miserables” or the miserable ones. Set in such a turbulent period in history, tragedy after tragedies plague their lives, testing their strengths.
The narrative starts with a jailed Jean Valjean performing strenuous labor in the docks. Javert, the prison warden, would then grant Valjean (“Prisoner 24601”) parole after 19 years of imprisonment. Valjean felt joy for his upcoming freedom. However, he is required by law to wear a yellow ticket of leave, identifying him as an ex-felon. Due to his past conviction, Valjean would be discriminated against by everyone he encounters wherever he goes. He needed help finding regular employment that pays well or provides housing with this predicament. This would change when a compassionate priest, the Bishop of Digne, offers Valjean a place to stay and presents him with silver and forgiveness. Through his deeds of kindness, Valjean is influenced to seek God and give up his ways, shedding the stigma of being a “criminal” and assuming a new identity. Instead of reporting Valjean, the Bishop let him escape and gave him a pair of silver candlesticks. Valjean is advised by the Bishop to use the silver to change his life and grow. Moved by this kindness, Valjean changes and makes amends for his past. He would then tear up his yellow ticket, breaking the terms of his parole. The story continues years after, as Valjean touches new life when he shelters Fantine and later adopts her daughter, Cosette.
The musical’s first act contains 24 songs, beginning with “Prologue: Work Song” and ending with “One Day More.” The performances continue to the second act, “Building the Barricade,” and close with “Do You Hear the People Sing? (Reprise).”
“A reborn dream of a production.” — Daily Telegraph
On October 8, 1985, Les Miserables had its world premiere at the Barbican Center in London. The musical was welcomed with mixed reactions from both critics and audiences. But as time passed, the musical grew older with each performance, much like a fine wine. After that, it set records by selling out every performance. On December 4, 1985, it was moved to the Palace Theatre in London and remained there until 2004, when it moved to the Queen’s Theatre.
Les Miserables debuted at the prestigious Kennedy Center Opera House before opening on Broadway. On March 12, 1987, it was moved to the Broadway Theatre. Its profound impact led to a phenomenon and a paradigm shift for Broadway musicals. Additionally, it permeated New York’s pop culture and, ultimately, all of America.
In the long run, it has received many deserving accolades. Three Laurence Olivier Awards went to the original West End play. These are for Patti Lupone’s 1985 portrayal of Fantine in the category of “Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical.” In 2012 and 2014, it went on to win the most popular show and received the audience award. On the other hand, the Broadway production’s first run won 8 Tonys. These include “Best Musical,” “Best Book of a Musical,” “Best Original Score,” “Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical” (Frances Ruffelle for Eponine), “Best Direction of a Musical” (Trevor Nunn and John Caird), “Best Scenic Design” (John Napier), and “Best Lighting Design” (David Hersey). Michael Maguire played Enjolras in the musical.
From May 10 to 21, “Les Mis” will be performed at the Buell Theatre. The cast will be announced soon. Denver theatre fans, mark your calendars and see this global phenomenon live. Get your tickets ahead of time by hitting the “Get Tickets” link on this site.