Les Miserables is just plain cool. The novel is cool. The West End/Broadway show is cool. And hopefully, the 2012 film adaptation of the musical will be equally cool. But what is he source of Les Miz's awesomeness? I've tried to analyze exactly what makes so darn cool.
Reason #1: Author Victor Hugo
The man who wrote Les Miserables experienced creative successes and personal challenges. Check out some of the highlights from Victor Hugo's long life:
- Born in France during Emperor Napoleon's reign.
- Not just a novelist but one of his country's favorite poets.
- Daughter and son-in-law drowned (prompting lots of tragic poetry).
- Spent almost two decades writing Les Miz.
- Lived in exile for over ten years.
- During later years, elected as a senator.
My favorite piece of trivia: Victor Hugo supposedly sent the world's shortest telegram when he wanted to know how his novel was selling. He sent a question mark; his publisher replied with an exclamation point.
Reason #2: The Original Concept Album
Man, I love a good concept album. Whether its Sgt. Pepper's or The Dark Side of the Moon, these types of albums create a distinct mood They are filled with songs that flow from one to the next, often telling a story. Before it became a stage production, Les Miserables was just an album - but what an album! It contained twenty songs composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg with lyrics by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel, the men who would eventually craft a stage musical (and go on to create shows like Miss Saigon and The Pirate Queen.)
The album struck a chord with producer Cameron Mackentosh who was looking for something to top his latest hit Cats. He found it.
Reason #3: Translated into Twenty One Languages!
English lyricist Herbert Kretzmer took on the task of adapting the French lyrics for British and American theater goers. Harder than it sounds. He had to create a lot of rhymes not found in he original text. In the process, Kretmer's translation helped to expand the musical into an epic three hour event. The show's initial success snowballed into an international sensation. Today, Les Miserables has been adapted into over twenty different languages and performed in over forty nations.
Reason #4: Jean Valjean ( X17 )
The protagonist Jean Valjean is one of literature's most beloved characters. We first meet him as an embittered convict who cannot seem to relinquish his life as a thief. However, he is profoundly changed by an act of kindness, and begins an incredible journey to save a young girl from a life of squallor.
Jean Valjean gets some of the best musical moments including "Who Am I?", the beginning of "One Day More," and the heart-wrenchingly beautiful "Bring Him Home." As stated above, there have been a lot of productions around he world, which means there have been different Jean Valjeans performed by actors from Norway to Japan.
Note: Every Les Miz fan should watch the Tenth Anniversary Celebration in which seventeen Jean Valjeans sing.
Reason #5 Javert - Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes
One of the best antagonist characters ever created, Javert is not your typical adversary. He is unrelenting but not villainous, unforgiving yet not without nobility. He believes that Jean Valjean is a criminal who must be punished, intent on following the letter of the law and disregarding the spirit. Javert has the honor of singing my absolute favorite song from he show: "Stars."
Reason #6: The Revolving Stage
Lately, national tours of Les Miz have opted for digital projections, but that's a shame, because there is nothing more awesome in stage technology than a revolving stage. I had the pleasure of seeing the Broadway production in 1989, and I was amazed by the smoothness of the set changes, the scene transitions, and the choreography - all during 60 plus rotations on an enormous stage. I left mesmerized, and wondering if any of the cast members ever got motion sickness.
Reason #7: Cool Casting Choices
Colm Wilkinson, the original lead from the West End production, will always be the best Jean Valjean in my book. The 2012 film makers chose Hugh Jackman, a long time show-tune crooner long before he donned Wolverine's claws. Most people, myself included, are looking forward to Jackman's performance in the film. But Colm fans can take heart knowing that Mr. Wilkinson will be appearing in the film as the Bishop of Digne. The other significant characters are played by well-known British and American actors:
- Russel Crowe as Javert
- Anne Hathaway as Fantine
- Amanda Seyfried as Cossette
- Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Thénardier
- Sascha Baron Cohen as Mr. Thénardier
There had been a lot of buzz that Taylor Swift would be playing one the most sympathetic characters in Les Miz, the love-starved Éponine. Fortunately (no offense to Ms. Swift) the role will be played by the more theater-saavy actress Samantha Barks.