8 Reasons We Love Les Miserables

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 ado, 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

 

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For many summers I worked as a Teaching Assistant for New Britain Youth Theater in their summer school enrichment program. I would say these werepositive experiences for me, and as a college student studying Theatre (along with Writing and Film), I couldn’t ask for a better summer job for someone like me. But more importantly, I’ve seen that these programs tend to be positive experiences for the kids I’ve worked with.

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Depression: To me, it is one of the most destructive and misunderstood diseases on the planet. It is to the spirit what cancer is to the body. Slowly but surely, it eats away at who you are until there is nothing left of you but a miserable, empty shell of a person. The number of victims who lost their lives while fighting it off is countless. It is the worst possible thing that could be inflicted on a person’s psyche, and personally, I wouldn’t wish it on my own worst enemy.

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Broadway theatre is one of the biggest draws for tourism here in the Big Apple. All year round, but especially during the summer, it’s what people from across the world come here to see. However, what people outside of the city often don’t seem to realize is just how much brilliant new writing, and how many of the next potential Broadway performers, there are Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. When discussing these productions, the theatre festival scene is at the heart of much of this talent and creative energy.

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Playwriting without Boundaries: The 2016 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage New York Columnist

It was the month of August. The first few months of my summer had been, for the most part, a fairly low-key time in my life. It had been quite a few months since I finished college with a BA in Theatre, and I had an entire month free before I moved to New York City. During this time, I had plenty of time to relax, and focus entirely on the things in life that I actually care most about. So what was a guy like me to do during that time?

That’s why I’m so happy to have once again participated in the 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge, for the second year in a row, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have already been using my free time in the summer polishing some drafts of short plays I had written earlier in the year, and had also been working on a full-length play that I’ve been writing for awhile now. Still, I felt that the pace in which I’ve been writing new short plays hadn’t been as frequent as I would have liked, during the earlier part of this summer.

Thanks to the 31 Plays and 31 Days challenge, I was able to get lots of extra work done as a playwright. To be honest, I got more done than I might have been inspired to get done, if I had not felt pushed to do so. I felt inspired to take my approach to playwriting in very different directions, and the result has been a great deal of scripts that are very unconventional, at least compared to a lot of the stuff that I’ve written that has already been produced.

There is a reason I ended up taking many different approaches to playwriting this year. The 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge essentially emphasizes quantity over quality. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be doing the best you can to write high-quality plays, and obviously the playwright is free to go back and do any necessary rewrites later…which is probably what I’ll be spending much of September doing, to be honest. However, the point of the challenge is to just keep writing, without ever stopping. That way, it is much easier to finish 31 plays by the end of the month.

For this reason, I felt more free and motivated during this time to take more experimental approaches to writing, some of which I had never thought of, prior to taking this challenge. To me, the result has been…interesting, to say the least.

To be clear, I still have been writing lots of short scripts that have been heavier on plot and dialogue. My first scripts for the challenge this year have especially been more in that vein. This is true of some plays I’ve written such as One More Drink, a drama about a lonely man at a bar that has terminal lung cancer; Phil’s Pills, a strange dark comedy about a drug dealer trying sell drugs at a carnival; and When Lightning Strikes, a dramedy about a man trying to save a stranger from committing suicide. Some others – such as Mime Crimes and The Pigeon at Port Authority – might be considered to be a bit more avant-garde, but still are closest to this approach to playwriting.

I feel a lot of what I’ve already been writing over the past year or so have already gone beyond the more traditional, slice of life approach to playwriting that people seem to be more used to. This past month, however, I especially feel like when I compare what I’ve written last year for the challenge to this year’s plays, there is more of an overall difference, which I thought was mildly amusing.

One way of writing scripts I’ve been taking more and more this past year, which has become more prevalent while taking this challenge, is taking poetry that I’ve written, and heavily incorporating it into my plays. Some of these poems I had written years ago, and have decided to revisit. Others are brand new poems that I wrote specifically to be incorporated into a play that is based around a certain story or message. Plays that I’ve written that take this approach to writing include A Soliloquy About Friends, which explores the theme of missing and remembering long-lost friends; Missing You (More Than I Care to Admit), a tale of a young man reflecting on the death of his ex-girlfriend; and Professionally Up / Personally Down, which explores the theme of emotional mood-swings and the conflicted feelings some people have about their lives.

There are also some very abstract performance scripts that I’ve ended up writing for the challenge, which is a bit unusual for me, given that I’m usually more of a plot-oriented writer. However, as long as there is some sort of message that I’m able to convey through the script, I’ve decided that these ideas I’ve come up with are worth writing down. (Although some have been even more abstract than that.) Some of these scripts include Love Without Compromise, an ode to the impact that art and theatre can have on social issues; Six Six Six, which is intended to be just as much a piece of social commentary, as it is intended to be a protest against religion; and The Gibberish Play, one of the weirder plays I’ve ever written, with completely nonsensical dialogue that is intended to be interpreted in whatever way the actors choose. 

So in the end, I was able to make the 11:59pm deadline on August 31st, and submit a total of 31 short plays to the 31 Plays in 31 Days website, and looking back on it, I’m very glad I did it. I hope to see at least some of these pieces get produced, at some point. At the very least, I’m sure that they will serve as inspiration for future scripts that I may write.

For now, however, I feel inspired once again to get back into a more frequent pace of writing. I think it should go without saying that that’s an important routine for writers to get into. If there are any other playwrights out there reading this that might not be familiar with this annual writing challenge, I strongly encourage you to take it next year. You can learn more about it at www.31plays31days.com.
    
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist based in New York City. 

To learn more about Mr. Piccione 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).