Anthony J. Piccione
Let me start by stating the obvious: Theatre people LOVE Les Miserables. There’s plenty of reasons why it’s still one of the most popular musicals in the history of theatre, and why it continues to be produced over and over again even today. Personally, I can name quite a few highly popular Broadway musicals that I consider to be overrated, but this is not one of them.
However, there are some people out there who might actually be wondering why those of us who love theatre LOVE Les Miserables. Maybe they think it actually is overrated, or maybe they’ve never actually seen a production of it (*gasp*) and – as a result – cannot possibly understand why we won’t stop talking about this show three decades after it first premiered. For this reason, I’ve decided to make a short list that can help make things clearer for those people.
So without further adieu, here are just a few reasons – in no particular order – why many of us theatergoers love Les Miserables.
• The music is phenomenal – From “I Dreamed a Dream” to “One Day More” to “Do You Hear The People Sing”, there are so many great songs that are favorites of musical theatre everywhere, it’s easy to see why I ranks highly among musicals that local community theaters everywhere would love to produce one day, if they haven’t already. Indeed, it is hard for anyone – even those who aren’t typically musical theatre lovers – to listen to this music and not appreciate it.
• But it’s not too cheesy – Let’s be honest. For many people, Broadway musicals are always enjoyable simply because of the pure spectacle of singing and dancing. But for some of us, the music in some of these musicals can get WAY too cheesy and are a guilty pleasure at best. But for me, this is a show that is just as heavy on great plot and character development as it is on great music. Speaking of which…
• Unforgettable characters – You can’t tell a great story without some great characters. From the protagonist seeking redemption for past sins Jean Valjean and the young and beautiful Cosette to the villainous Inspector Javert and even the comic relief of Thenardier and Madam Thenardier, it is hard to argue that this is a show that is lacking in strong lead and supporting characters, and it is even harder to argue that they aren’t well remembered by theatergoers across the world.
• And several powerful moments – Don’t tell me you’ve never once shed a tear when watching Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” moment early on in the show. If you haven’t, then you must have when Eponine delivers the highly poignant number “On My Own” or at the end when (*spoiler alert*) Jean Valjean passes away and is reunited with a grateful Fantine. Personally, at least the first time I saw this show, I was deeply moved by each of these three scenes, and it is largely why I still love this show today.
• It’s a musical adaptation that actually works – Before it was a hit musical, Les Miserables was originally a novel by Victor Hugo. (While we’re on this subject, a future musical based off The Hunchback of Notre Dame that is NOT toned down for kids by the lovely people at Disney would be most welcome.) Adapting pre-existing material for the stage – whether it is from literature or film – is not exactly an easy task, yet this is one of the rare musicals that not only pulls it off, but does so seamlessly. Having said that, while we’re still talking about adaptations…
• No matter how hard they try, Hollywood can’t possibly replicate the original musical – I honestly can’t say that I dislike the film adaptation of Les Miserables as much as others in the theatre community do. On its own, I’d say it makes a good film with lots of good acting and singing. However, NOTHING beats the real thing. For those of us who prefer seeing great live theatre over seeing a great film on the silver screen, the fact that this is a show that the film industry can never move from stage to screen is something I think we can deeply appreciate.
• It’s politically relevant – This might be a fairly controversial reason for some people. However, I personally believe that in America and across the world, where there is a growing dissatisfaction with government and politicians in general, the story of Les Miserables depicts events which - while perhaps not a perfect comparison – aren’t that far apart from today, in terms of showing the way many people in the world feel about their leaders today.
• Vive la France – Normally, my inner Italian would be telling me not to write a reason such as this. However, in light of the recent tragic events in Paris, we could use some more ways to celebrate the things that make France a great country. If you ask me, there aren’t many other shows that do a better job at showing the idealism and resilience of the French people than Les Miserables.
So there you have it. Any reasons that you have for loving Les Miserables that you didn’t see on the list? Are you, by any chance, one of those people that have a reason for believing that Les Miserables is overrated? Either way, be sure to let us know in the comments section!
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione