Les Misérables: My Favorite Musical Based on a Classic Novel (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

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Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

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THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What is your favorite musical based on a classic novel?

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For me, Les Misérables is pretty much the perfect musical! I love the sheer breadth of it, the way it follows a cast of characters over many years, revealing how their lives intertwine with one another even as they are swept up into the upheaval of rebellion. And so many important themes are touched upon: justice vs. mercy, the possibility of redemption, and the need for social justice, to name only a few. The scope of the production blows me away every time!

For me, Les Misérables is pretty much the perfect musical! I love the sheer breadth of it, the way it follows a cast of characters over many years, revealing how their lives intertwine with one another even as they are swept up into the upheaval of rebellion. And so many important themes are touched upon: justice vs. mercy, the possibility of redemption, and the need for social justice, to name only a few. The scope of the production blows me away every time!

And, amazingly, I love pretty much every song in Les Mis. I could admittedly do without “There Is a Castle on a Cloud,” which I find sickeningly sweet. But every other song is phenomenal and powerful. From “I Dreamed a Dream” to “On My Own,” each song reveals the inner lives of the characters, making individuals society has cast away–the poor, the orphaned, the criminal, and the “ruined”–come alive as fully realized and sympathetic people. Les Mis has a vast scope, but its heart is the characters, and the reminder to “look down” at the people and the conditions society longs to forget.

Les Mis has all the emotions, bringing audiences from sadness and despair to hope at the possibility of redemption and a happier ending, even if not in this lifetime. Its poignancy is perhaps what really draws me to the musical. It takes a hard look at the divide between the rich and the poor, emphasizing over and over again the responsibility the privileged have to treat everyone with dignity, and to see to their needs. It is a message that continues to be timely, long after Victor Hugo first sought to change hearts and minds in his 1862 novel.

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Runner-Up

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite Charles Dickens novel. It is, in my opinion, Dickens at his best. Dickens is known for writing long, sprawling tales with verbose prose. (He did, after all, get paid by the word.) But with A Tale of Two Cities he actually manages to be somewhat concise, giving readers a sweeping saga of the French Revolution that finds its heart in telling the story of how the political chaos affects one family in particular. The narrative is tight, perpetually gesturing forward to its conclusion while also linking the present to the past. No word or thread of the tale seems out of place. It is masterful.

Because I love A Tale of Two Cities so much, I was excited to discover that a musical based on the book was released in 2007. I never saw the production on Broadway, though I did see a local production that seemed almost professional! (I expect to see the actor who played Sydney Carton on Broadway one day himself.) The songs are powerful, and they do an excellent job of filling in the gaps that readers may feel Dickens left. Lucy, for instance, gets to sing about her feelings about Darnay leaving her for France without even consulting her opinion on the matter. She feels like a well-rounded, and understandably angry, woman, not the doormat some readers have found her. And Sydney’s despair at his inability to turn his life around also comes through very poignantly. Some changes were made to the plot to work around problems like the actors for Darnay and Carton not looking like twins. But all the changes seem reasonable and work well with the plot. Altogether, this is a very beautiful and moving musical, and I would love to see it performed again!

23 thoughts on “Les Misérables: My Favorite Musical Based on a Classic Novel (Classic Remarks)

  1. salonimore1702 says:

    I’ve only watched the “Les Mis” film with Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks but the book is definitely on my TBR. I’ve just felt a bit intimidated by its size!

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  2. mphtheatregirl says:

    My favorite classic is Les Misérables, which was read due to the massive love I have for the musical. I already have seen the stage show six times, watched the 25th, 10th, and 2019 concert- the 2019 concert had to be watched in cinemas due to living in the US. However, I read the book after seeing the film, 25th concert, and the stage show at community college- also watched the PBS Masterpiece Series. It actually was Central Piedmont Community College that created the motor for wanting to see the musical in London. I actually read the unabridged book the same summer I saw the stage show in London.

    Les Mis is inspiring, uplifting, but tragic and heartbreaking at the same time. These characters are so interconnected. If you get rid of one tiny detail, the entire story falls apart. Epic, powerful, passionate, and highly emotional songs. A fantastic batch of characters. Along with the plot. The songs, characters, and story easily complement each other.

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    • Krysta says:

      Wow! You put it so perfectly! And I love that you’re so familiar with the show! I can tell you are a dedicated fan! I’ve seen the 25th anniversary version with Alfie Boe and I love it! Probably more than the Anne Hathaway movie, which is nice in its own way, but not really the same.

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      • mphtheatregirl says:

        Alfie Boe is one of my favorite Valjean actors- he is better than Hugh Jackman.

        Actually, the years I seen the stage show are rather interesting. I literally have seen the stage show every other year, but all has to do with timing. 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 were the years I saw the stage show- each year a different theater. I saw Les Mis at Halton Theater, Queens Theater, Peace Center, and Ovens Auditorium.

        If you want to know more about my love for the musical, check out this post:

        https://megsdailymusings.wordpress.com/2020/03/25/do-you-hear-the-people-sing/

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        • Krysta says:

          I have to admit Jackman was not my favorite Valjean. He just didn’t seem to have the power and the range needed for the role. But Boe is marvelous! He can definitely bring me to tears.

          Wow! That’s so strange it worked out like that! I certainly hope you can continue the trend in 2021!

          And thanks for sharing your post!

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          • mphtheatregirl says:

            Considering the fact that I was still a student at CPCC in 2013, I was able to see their phenomenal production of Les Mis. I ushered during this production twice leading me to see Les Mis three times.

            Then in 2015, the church choir at my family church, family members, and friends all went on a Bristol Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage began in London- my family went up two days early to get used to the time difference and to get more out of London. That was why I experienced Les Mis in the West End.

            Then the US Tour was launched in 2017- I had to choose: either see Les Mis in Greenville or in Charlotte. I choose Greenville due to loving the Peace Center and to be with my university.

            Well, the US Tour decided to come back to Charlotte in 2019- it was the 2nd Les Mis date I had with my mom. Well- five actors still played the same parts: Josh Davis (Javert), Jillian Butler (Cosette), Joshua Grosso (Marius), Matt Shingledecker (Enjolras), and Allison Guinn (Madame Thenardier). In some ways, Mary Kate Moore repeated (she moved up from being in the ensemble/understudy Fantine to securing the main part)- so I saw her in both the ensemble and when she was the main Fantine

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Never Not Reading says:

    OKAY YOU’VE HOOKED ME. I can’t NOT participate in this prompt!!!! Les Mis is an excellent choice. Such a wonderful book and musical! I think On My Own is my favorite song, but I do also love Bring Him Home. Who am I kidding? I love them all!

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  4. One Book More says:

    I don’t know if I can even put into words how much I love Les Miserables! The book, the films, the musical – every version is sheer perfection. One Day More is my favorite song, but I love them all. Bring Him Home, Stars, I Dreamed a Dream, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables – they just make you feel all the feels! 🙂

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  5. Jai Lynn says:

    I was very fortunate enough to see the 2007 musical on Broadway for a Tale of Two Cities and it was just as you imagined. Amazing ❤ At the time I had never read the book but to this day that performance is one of my favorites of all time. I hope you do get to see the actor who played Sydney because his performance was unbelievable. As of now I have read the book and it is one of my favorite classics of all time too! Great post!

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    • Krysta says:

      Oh my goodness! That is so amazing! If I remember, the show had a rather short run, too short for me to even contemplate finding a way to see it. Alas. But at least I still have the music! There’s also a filmed version from PBS, but it’s kind of annoying because there’s commentary interspersed between the songs and, honestly, why would you break up a show like that?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lory says:

    I love Les Mis too even though the poetry of the novel is largely lost. But the songs are so memorable, and have plenty of emotional impact.

    A Tale of Two Cities sounds interesting too!

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      • Lory says:

        I did read it for a year – it has 365 chapters! But that is a big commitment. It is one book where I would say to read an abridged version if you just want to get an impression of the original. You can always read the whole book later if you want.

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  7. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    My family agrees with you! We LOVE Les Miserables. It’s one of, if not the, greatest musical of all time. When compared to the book, it’s missing quite a bit. But how can you expect to fit Hugo’s masterpiece into under 3 hours? Yeah. You can’t. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil did an incredible job distilling such an epic tale into 3 hours. Plus the music! Wonderful.

    Do you have a favorite cast?

    I didn’t realize there was a Broadway musical based on A Tale of Two Cities. I’ll definitely have to look that up! Thanks for pointing it out. I’m glad you got to see a local production that sounds super high-quality. Local productions can be hit-or-miss depending on where you live…

    Better late than never — I thought I scheduled this for Friday, alas. Here’s my contribution: http://deathbytsundoku.com/classic-remarks-meets-top-ten-tuesday-favorite-musicals-based-on-classic-novels/

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