Les Mis for short based on the novel of Victor Hugo published in 1862 on the French revolution has become the longest running musical of all time. Now close to its 35th birthday. The theatre is at an average of 95% capacity every night with eight shows a week! There is something about this musical which touches everyone who sees it. There is a hard-core audience around this show. There are plenty of fans who return often to see it but it also attracts newbies to the theatre to get a sample of musicals. What musical to start with. I will admit I was drawn to the musical from watching a youtuber. But Les Mis is the reason for my musical addiction. Let’s break it down and discuss why this is the most successful musical of all time.
This musical was brought to the stage with the original cast which are now the biggest names of the west end. These include Michael Ball, Colm Wilkinson, Roger Allam, Patti LuPone and Frances Ruffelle. The production was created by Cameron Mackintosh who is still greatly involved in casting since 1985. The cast changes in June every year depending on contracts meaning more incredible actors pass through the stage and move on to other projects. Les mis are one of those productions that can get you notice and make the rest of their career. For me the actors I remember are Celinde Schoenmaker, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Zoe Deago, Rachel Ann Go, Ramin Karmiloo and Rob Houchen. Even that was 5 years ago and there are new actors in those rolls.
No onto the music. If you haven’t seen it tough I’m going to talk about it all. The show opens with “Look Down” with Jean Valjean working as a slave and gets released by Javert who refers to him only as prisoner 24601. Not as a man but as a beast. He was only imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and even when he is free, he is desperate and treated like an animal. It takes a priest who allows him a second chance that he decides to turn his life around and we skip forward to meet Fatine working in a factory in a town that Valjean is now the major.
My first actress I saw playing Fantine was Celinde Schoenmaker who you will also see featured in my Phantom article. I love this actress and she made debut as Fantine in 2013 after Sierra Bogesss finished her run. Celinde played Fantine as vulnerable but strong which made her death scene very emotional. This woman has such power to her voice that you can’t help but fall in love with this actress. She has great things ahead of her.
Fantine has a daughter to support but ends up being fired and Valjean does nothing to stop it and falls into poverty, selling her hair and going into prostitution. Her will to live declines as she sings the famous number “I dreamed a dream”. This song is beautiful and connects to so many people as it empathises the loss of hope and despair everyone feels at some point. She is abused when Valjean intervenes and takes her to hospital where she dies and he promises to look after her daughter. At this point Javert is back to take him away and they sing “the confrontation”. This is my favourite song as they just sing fight and Valjean escapes.
Val Jean goes to rescue Cosette (fantines daughter) from thenardiers when the production of “master of the house” is performed which is the funniest part of the show. I will let you discover that part for yourself. Val Jean rescues Cosette and then the time moves forward again to where she is grown up and the show really starts. France is on the edge of revolution and Marius and Enjorlas are handing out flyers when Marius meets Cosette and falls for her. At a meeting “Red and Black” is sang to mock and remind Marius of his duty.
Marius ropes Eponine Thenardiers daughter who is utterly smitten by him to find Cosette. She does and the three sing “a heart full of love”. This song is emotional and heart-warming but leaves Eponine devastated and she sings the famous song “on my own.” The revolution moves forward and they sing “can you hear the people sing” calling the French citizens to arms. The first half closes with the cast singing one day more with a part from each character. This song reaches your soul and the power just echoes through the theatre. It ends the first half with a bang and there is no other song like it in the west end.
The barracked is raised and the emotional second half shows Javert infiltrating the barracked after Val jean who is there to save Marius. Val jean rescues Marius after Eponine dies delivering his message to Cosette and they sing “little fall of rain.” Eponine is so popular to the audience as everyone has felt smitten and utterly heart broken like she was and never got her happy ending. Though Marius survives his friends do not and he sings “empty chairs and tables” to evoke his survivors’ guilt. Cosette and Marius marry but Val Jean dies and is taken to heaven by Fantine and Eponine. This closes the show and will have you in tears.
Carrie Hope Fletcher played Eponine during my first visit to Les Mis. I had followed her for a while online and Eponine was her debut. For someone who had a musical background but no formal acting training she has been cast on pure talent which she has in bucket fulls. This girl was one to watch and she has gone very far over the last 5 years. She brought many new people to the west end which is such a positive thing to bring in new audiences.
Les Mis is in its 34th year and today finished its last run of the original Les Mis. The theatre is shut for repairs as the building was damaged in WW2 and is in depserate need of maintenance. In the mean time we only have a month of no Les Mis. There will be a concert version in the neighbouring theatre with some of the biggest names in the west end for a 12 week run before the queens theatre reopens with the new production. I will be returning to see Les mis in september. It will be sad that we can never see the original version but the change may make the classic musical even more popular than before! My favourite actress who led me to go and see Le mis is making a return as Fantine in the concert version of Les Mis with Matt Lucas, Micheal Ball and many more amazing actors. Keep an eye out for that post.
The story is epic, beautiful and based on fantasy. Everyone can connect to a specific character and may change over time. This show just pulls at your heart strings and affects you. I can’t seem to express exactly how but there is a magic in it. This show will outlive us all and it will be a privilege to be able to go and see it grow and develop over the time as it will never finish. Go see Les Mis!
My first actors/actresses in all of these roles belong to the film. Without any of them- I wouldn’t be a Les Mis fan. All it took was giving a musical film a 2nd chance and the rest was history.
In terms of the stage show- my first cast belonged to Central Piedmont Community College. This was a cast I saw three times because I saw it once with family and twice as an usher. They were the motor for wanting to see it in the West End. They were still my first stage cast- CPCC on November 15th, 17th, and 24th of 2013.
West End- well, 2015. July 30th, 2015 with an understudy as Jean Valjean.
US Tour- November 5th, 2017 with an understudy as Eponine.
Crazy how I saw Les Mis every other year.
Now it’s 2019- I hope to see the stage show again. It will be the US Tour again in Charlotte.