Whenever I’m asked what my favorite movie or album or musical is, I usually answer with something along the lines that it changes all the time, but my favorite of the week is…However, once I really got to thinking about it, if there is one musical that could be categorized as a favorite, one that I know all the words and have loved for a very long time, it would have to be the legendary “Les Miserables.”
While the story is quite complex, it can be told in a few simple sentences (at least, that is what I will try to attempt). It focuses on Jean Valjean, a man who spent 19 years in jail (five for stealing bread, 14 for trying to escape) he struggles with becoming a good man when the world around him refuses to give him the chance. Eventually he becomes the mayor of a small town and aids a woman named Fantine, who has been reduced to selling herself on the streets to support her daughter. Valjean ends up taking care of the daughter, Cosette while trying to stay ahead of his past in the form of Inspector Javert. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionary, Marius, just before the Paris Uprising of 1892 (there is more to the story, but that would give it all away).
My earliest memory of this musical was my ninth grade French class, when we took a field trip to see a production of it. I don’t remember much of the actual performance, but I do remember falling in love with the story and the characters. And soon after that I was a proud owner of the VHS of the 10th anniversary concert staring some of the 1985 original cast, including Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean and Michael Ball as Marius. Looking back, Philip Quast stood out the most as Inspector Javert. I remember rewinding his solos to watch them over and over again. I was obsessed with it for a time and then, as most do, it faded to the background as more exciting and shiny things took my interest.
It wasn’t until the other week, when PBS aired the 25th anniversary concert that I remember how much I loved this musical and realized that it could be called my absolute favorite. This time around the lead role of Jean Valjean was played by relative newcomer Alfie Boe and Javert by Norm Lewis (who I loved at King Triton in “The Little Mermaid” musical). In a surprising casting choice, Nick Jonas was cast as Marius, opposite Ramin Karimloo as Enjrolas, the leader of the revolution and Katie Hall as Cossette. Samatha Banks also shone as Eponine, the girl who is unashamedly in love with Marius and the role that Lea Salonga (Fantine in this production) portrayed 15 years ago.
The entire cast was perfection; every song was filled with emotion and Alfie Boe certainly cemented his place as one of the best Valjeans ever to perform. The choice to cast the youngest Jonas brother has been hotly debated and while he was the weakest singer in the cast, that is no poor compliment. Given time and training, however, he could be a great Broadway performer.
The highlight of the entire concert came at the end, when the original cast came onstage and sung an encore of the rousing first act closer, “One Day More,” followed by a quartet version of “Let Him Live,” sung by Boe, John Owen-Jones from the 25th Anniversary touring production, Simon Bowman from the current London cast. You could see on every face on stage that this was truly a momentous occasion, not only for them but for every person in that stadium.
I believe the reason this musical has lasted so long is because it speaks to something inside of all of us, the part that wants us to make our own destinies instead of accepting what government or society thrusts upon this. And it is that theme of freedom from oppression that is even more so relevant in today’s world where countries are toppling leaders and actually living the words.
Everything about this concert has made it the new standard of “Les Miserables” performances and I cannot wait to see what happens at the next milestone concert.
- Les Mis (ifimjuliet.wordpress.com)
- Two Men and a Kitchen (misleadingtonowhere.wordpress.com)
- Two Performers and a Kitchen (misleadingtonowhere.wordpress.com)
- ‘Les Miserables’ a brilliant show at the Broward (pbpulse.com)
- Matt Lucas set for longer stint in Les Miserables (bbc.co.uk)
- Just Listen (denimdevotion.wordpress.com)