As one of the history’s longest running musicals, Les Misérables has touched the lives of audience members around the world. Its tale of perseverance has influenced generations in both its original music and musical version. Everyone seems to have a their own “Les Miz story.” We asked our current Drexel Co-Op intern about why Les Misérables is her favorite musical, and why you should see when it returns to Philadelphia at the Academy of Music from November 2- 13.
Like many people, Les Misérables is my mom’s favorite musical.
My interests have always followed hers, so in the same fashion that Han Solo is my favorite Star Wars character and Raúl Ibañez is my favorite baseball player, Les Misérables had to be my favorite musical too. Though some of my stolen favorites have waned over time, Les Misérables is the one that remains. It is not just my favorite musical, but one of my favorite works of all time.
Les Misérables has been a mainstay in my life since I was born (mostly because of my mother!). Hours were spent with my sister watching the VHS we had of the 10th anniversary countless times. The 1988 Complete Symphonic Recording was immediately downloaded to my first iPod and had me running around in my backyard pretending I was Eponine. My family gathered to watch the 25th Anniversary Concert DVD when it premiered in 2010. I saw the 2012 film the day it was released in theaters. Though I only have seen it live on stage twice, I can see touchpoints of Les Misérables influencing me throughout my entire life.
Photos that Megan took as part of her internship of the Les Misérables display in the Macy’s window in Philadelphia.
Now you may have heard of Les Misérables, but may you never knew what it was about. Here’s a quick crash course. Adapted from the 1862 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables is a tragic (it has “miserable” in the name for a reason), yet enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, , sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Set against the backdrop of 19th century France, it follows the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his nephew. Valjean breaks parole after his release and seeks redemption by becoming an honest man, but he is constantly pursued by Javert, a devout officer of the law determined to bring Valjean to justice. The tale spans over 20+ years with the majority of Act Two taking place during the June Rebellion of 1832 in Paris where all the characters become entangled in fighting between barricades on the streets.
A first edition collection of Les Misérables (fun fact: the book is divided into 5 sections that were originally published individually) and author Victor Hugo.
Les Misérables includes rich and unforgettable characters, each intertwining with their own harrowing story you will not want to miss. Early on, Valjean meets Fantine, a single mother who has been forced into life on the streets, and finds himself taking in her sweet and innocent daughter Cosette as his own when Fantine passes. Flashforward 20 years and Cosette is now a young woman who finds love with Marius, a young idealist that is friends with many of the revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the government. Caught up unrequited love for Marius is young Eponine (my favorite character!), the daughter of comedic duo The Thénardiers, a corrupt innkeeper and his wife.
Chistine Heesun Hwang as Eponine in the current US tour of Les Misérables.
Les Misérables first took the stage in 1980 in Paris with original French lyrics by French composer Claude-Michael Schönberg with Alain Boublili. It was then adapted into an English-language version produced by the legendary Cameron Mackintosh, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and additional material by James Fenton. This version of the show premiered in London on October 8, 1985 and is one of the longest running musicals on the West End. It first appeared on Broadway in 1986 with a cast of would-be stars including Colm Wilkinson, Judy Kuhn, and Terrance Mann to critical acclaim.
The original West End cast on stage in 1985.
The musical has won many awards over the years, including the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Actor, and Best Actress during its original run. It continues to be introduced to ne generations of musical-lovers through multiple recorded concert productions and new cast albums released over the years. Finally, a film version of the musical by director Tom Hooper premiered in 2012 and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 3 of them.
Want to hear the music of Les Misérables over the years? Check out our Spotify playlist gathering all the recordings in one place.
Les Misérables is known as one of the most popular musicals in the world, and with good reason. The entire musical is sung-through, leading to over forty songs with strong musical motifs throughout giving the music an extra powerful and memorable edge. From the tragic “I Dreamed a Dream” to the comedic “Master of the House;” the powerful “Do You Hear the People Sing” to the grief and guilt-driven “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” This magnificent score will leave you breathless. But the song that takes Les Mis from amazing to downright excellent for me is the famous showstopper and act one finale “One Day More.” In this song, every character gets their moment in the spotlight with a solo, but all come in at the end to overlap in beautifully controlled chaos to convey one clear message -- something big is coming for all of them in act two.
The current US tour cast of Les Misérables.
Les Misérables has something for any musical lover to enjoy. See it on your own or bring friends, just make sure you bring some tissues because have you heard the people sing? I can profess the greatness of Les Mis, but at the end of the day, it is up to you to make the decision to come. Do not look down and miss even a second of this outstanding performance. Do not leave empty chairs and empty tables at our theater! Do not let even a little fall of rain stop you from coming to see this show. I dreamed a dream you would see this fantastic musical take the stage. This musical will leave you with a heart full of love...and eyes full of tears. You will not regret coming to see this musical, this I swear by the stars. I cannot wait one day morev for this musical to come to Philly.
Les Misérables returns to Philadelphia on November 2-13 at the Academy of Music. Don’t miss your chance to see one of the world’s most beloved musicals! Grab your tickets today here.
Megan Rapp is a current junior at Drexel University studying Screenwriting and Playwriting. A lover of Halloween, video games, and Broadway, she is an avid writer who wishes to someday work on an animated TV or web series. She is completing her Co-Op semester at the Kimmel Cultural Campus through March and she can’t wait to see Les Misérables with her entire family while the show is in Philly!