Miserable Les Mis?

Sometimes I wonder why the musical ‘Les Miserables’ is so popular. It is now in its 26th year and has been performed in many countries all over the world, including the USA, Finland, Spain and Japan. As far as musicals are concerned, ‘Les Miserables’ doesn’t sound like a winner: it has no big dance routines, no really skimpy costumes (ok, with the exception of the ‘Lovely Ladies’) and it even has the word ‘miserable’ in the title.

In fact, I am going to make a list of ‘Miserable Moments’ from this show (inevitably, spoilers ahead):

  • Valjean being on the chain gang and being rejected by people once he gets his parole
  • Valjean being constantly hounded by Javert
  • Fantine falling into prostitution and dying in poverty
  • Little Cosette being abused by the Thenardiers
  • No one caring about the poor people
  • Eponine’s unrequited love for Marius
  • Practically everyone dying. Even little Gavroche. In fact, I read that there are 29 onstage deaths. (!!!)

Apparently, many of the reviews of the show after it first opened were so negative, that there was talk that ‘Les Mis’ would close before it even reached the West End. It was, at one point, dubbed ‘The Glums’.

So why is it so popular?

Here’s my take on it:

Firstly, I think that the characters are very human. Although (hopefully) most of us will never have to go through the kind of suffering that many (most) of the characters experience, I think that many audience members find traits in the characters to which they can relate in some way: there are thousands of people who face unrequited love, people who strive for justice above everything, people constantly haunted by their past. Thus, I think people recognise either themselves or someone they know when they see Valjean, Javert, Eponine, Fantine or Enjolras. That makes them care.

Secondly the music is absolutely fantastic. ‘nuff said.

Thirdly, despite the ‘Miserable Moments’ I find this musical surprisingly uplifting, especially the ending. I find it very moving as Valjean is taken to heaven by Fantine and Eponine, joined by the students, with the message, “To love another person is to see the face of God”. This musical ends on a note of hope and love, which I find exceedingly heartening and emotional as the finale soars, finishing with the hopeful lyrics:

Do you hear
the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes…
Tomorrow comes!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Veronika
    Oct 22, 2012 @ 20:59:39

    i just finish read your article about Les Mis. I´m big Les Mis fan too, firstly i have seen it in 2006 and it was incredible. Sice 2010 i´m totally mad about this musical. Best musical ever! You are so lucky, that you saw Les Mis at London. I want go there too so much. I live in Czech republic and its not easy for me, visit London, thought i so much want. If you want maybe talk and debate with me about anything about Les Mis, i would be very happy. You can tell me your experiences and i will tell you mine. If you want, write me to my e-mail adress, i will look forward for your mail.
    Have a nice day, Veronika
    PS: Sorry for my bad English 😀


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