LES MIS. One of the most famous and iconic musicals of all time. What started out as a 1500 page novel written in 1862 by Victor Hugo (who ALSO wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame), is now known as a tale of hope, love, loss, and the battle between good and evil found in every form of theater; multiple movies, a televised mini-series, and a Broadway musical.
I recently went to see a shortened high-school production of the musical, just after watching the newest movie version released in 2012 featuring famous actors and actresses including Hugh Jackman as the iconic Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Eddie Redmayne as Marius Pontmercy, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. And let's not forget Helena Bonham Carter as the infamous Madame Thénardier. The musical was no less amazing than the movie version, with incredible high schoolers portraying the struggling revolutionaries.
Since I have only recently seen the movie and have not read the book, and to keep the identity of the high school production secret, I will mostly be giving my opinion using the movie version as a reference. So without further ado, here is my opinion on LES MISÉRABLES!
***CAUTION: Spoiler ahead!!! (Obviously) If you do not want any spoilers, you should probably watch the movie before you read this. :)
So, Victor Hugo was born in 1802, just around the time that Napoleon Bonaparte was gaining power and crowned himself the Emperor of France, towards the end of the major part of the French Revolution. As also witnessed in Charles Dicken's, A Tale of Two Cities, this was a time of oppression and injustice for the French bourgeoisie and sans-culottes, while the nobility generally had all the riches and comforts they could have asked for. So naturally, this was also a time of revolution. A time for the people to stand up for themselves, and protest against the harsh and brutal conditions they were forced to live in. Hugo probably saw many instances of this in his life, and reflected the harshness of reality in France into his novel, Les Misérables, which translates to 'the miserable ones' in English.
The story follows criminal and convict Jean Valjean, who spent 19 years in a French prison for stealing bread to feed his starving sister's son, and was initially arrested by the law-abiding Inspector Javert. After being released from prison and put on parole, Jean Valjean meets a kind bishop who inadvertently teaches him to, essentially, 'Be the good you want to see in the world'. Eight years later, after breaking his parole, Jean Valjean is now the mayor of a small town, and a completely changed man. After stumbling upon a dying Fantine in the street, a former factory worker of his, he promises to care for the daughter that Fantine had sent away to live with some sketchy innkeepers. Shortly afterwards, Fantine dies in the hospital and Valjean ventures out to find this child, Cosette, all while evading the ever-watchful Javert who is relentless is his quest to bring Valjean to justice.
The rest of the story is told 10 years later in Paris where Cosette and her adoptive father have fled to evade Javert. We also get to see a glimpse into the June Rebellion of 1832, orchestrated by the ABC society (a play on the French word 'abaissés' which means 'lowly') and their leaders Enjolras and Marius Pontmercy. We also meet Eponine and Gavroche, the children of the innkeepers who kept Cosette, and their transition from a once high place in society to the lowly slums of Paris.
I'll try and keep the rest of the story somewhat of a secret, but here are a few things I want to touch on.
1. Jean Valjean's absolution
Some people critique the plot on the fact that after Jean Valjean was rescued and cared for by the bishop, he made too quick of transition from being a criminal to becoming a "saint", but I wholeheartedly disagree with that. One of the major themes of this story is the story of redemption, and although there are some definite spiritual elements that play a part in the message of the plot, it ultimately boils down to this: One of the reasons why we find Javert becoming the antithesis of Jean Valjean later in the story, is because he is unwilling to acknowledge that fact that people have the ability to change, and become a better person. Valjean was able to accomplish this, and this is proved time and time again, as he saved Cosette from her abusive home with the Thénadiers, and when he risked his life to save Marius and make sure that he would come home to Cosette. He learned to true meaning of kindness when he met the bishop and spent the rest of his life trying to give back to the world and attempting to right the wrongs he had done so early on. Just look at Sydney Carton. Those of you who have read A Tale of Two Cities know what I'm talking about. When he met Lucie Manette he completely changed his pessimistic view of life and completely turned it around. He ultimately gave his life to save the husband of the woman that he loved. Call me old-fashioned, but I still have some faith in the world and humanity.
2. The Love Triangle (Cosette, Marius, Eponine)
Long story short, Eponine was in love with Marius, but he friend-zoned her when he met Cosette, the mysterious blond girl he saw on the street, who also immediately fell in love with Marius. Eponine finds out where Cosette is living, takes Marius to her, and they confess their love for each other, before Cosette and Jean Valjean move away for their safety. Eponine sings a sad soliloquy in an empty street and then goes and dresses herself like a guy so she can deliver a message from Cosette to Marius, who is now at the barricade fighting heartless soldiers. She is injured before making it their however, and once she delivers Cosette's letter, she dies in Marius' arms. So, basically the French version of Romeo and Juliet. Except not.
Simple right? False; love triangles are never simple. Some people harbor a distinct dislike towards Cosette for her seemingly shallow pool of a personality when compared to Eponine. This is yet another thing that I disagree with. Sure, it may not look like she had a lot of flaws, but let's not forget that it was EPONINE'S parents that treated and abused her so badly, and squeezed every penny they could out of Fantine while she was still alive. So much so, that Fantine was forced into prostitution to keep paying them for caring for her child, and Cosette was never treated any better anyways! Call me crazy, but at this point in the story, I don't think that Cosette requires any flaws to make her character full of depth. She barely knew her mother and was forced to work as a dirty, abused servant at the innkeeper's inn!
So you think that Eponine should have ended up with Marius? I could see that happening, but I think that one of the reason's people don't like Cosette very much is that they can see Eponine struggling to make herself noticed and in the end her good deeds do nothing to make Marius see her differently. You may not know it, but subconsciously (most of the time) as the audience who is reading a book or watching a musical, you enjoy watching the tension between characters, because it gives you something to root for. A story without any tension or conflict is boring, because you don't have to wait for two characters, it just happens (like Marius and Cosette). It's why you wait for 3 seasons of your favorite TV show for two characters to get together, cause the producers know that they can get you to come back and wait to see them get together! Seeing Eponine struggle to be noticed makes you root for her and subconsciously harbor a disliking towards Cosette, the sweet, innocent girl who has no flaws and to our point of view, looks almost perfect.
The music is amazing, enough said. I don't really know what else their is to say. It's musical theater, the lyrics contain hidden secrets that you don't really understand unless you listen carefully to all the words, so pretty much like any other amazing, awesome musical you could find. 90% of the soul of the musical can be found in the music, which I think portrays the emotions of the characters much better than speaking probably could, in this case. More of the classic and iconic songs of this musical include, Do You Hear The People Sing?, I Dreamed A Dream, On My Own, and Castle On A Cloud.
A few of the lesser known songs I feel mentioning, and that you should totally go listen to right now are Who Am I?, Red & Black, A Heart Full Of Love, One Day More, and Bring Him Home.
I should think that one of the most important and obvious messages in this story is the message that money and power have no value in this life. The most valuable thing that you can give someone is your kindness and compassion. The bishop shows Jean Valjean some compassion and Jean Valjean in return renounces his wrongdoings and promises to become a better man, after seeing how important love is. Jean Valjean shows compassion for Fantine, and promises to look after her daughter, and in return Cosette gives him the family he never knew he needed. One of the most famous lines from the musical reflects this very idea by saying that "To love another person is to see the face of God".
I never knew that I would end up liking this musical so much, but now I can't stop listening to it and singing it aloud! It's just so iconic, that you could probably be walking down the street singing one of the songs, and the stranger that walks past you would probably turn around and start harmonizing with you! I was so thankful that I got to see a live high school production of this show, everyone was so talented and amazing it was a truly amazing experience. If you have the chance, you should go watch the 2012 film. It won't be the same as seeing it on Broadway, but there are still some pretty amazing actors and actresses playing these amazing characters. I could write a whole book about the things I wanted to say in this review, but I'll just leave it at this for now:
Even the darkest night will end,
And the sun will rise