Flashback Friday: ‘Les Miserables’ a staple in musical theatre for almost 30 years

Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, George Blagden and others in the film version of "Les Miserables."

Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, George Blagden and others in the film version of “Les Miserables.”

For almost 30 years, audiences around the world have been flocking to theatres to see one of the most popular musicals of all time. By now it has literally touched the hearts of millions with its heartbreaking story, beautiful music and a truly epic barricade.

 Les Misérables (commonly referred to as Les Mis) is producer Cameron Mackintosh’s Oscar-nominated musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel about revolution, love, tragedy and forgiveness in nineteenth-century France. The title, which roughly translates to “The Miserables,” is a good way to describe the story, in which most suffer and four main characters die. Audiences have been known to reach for tissues halfway into the first act. Despite its serious themes, Les Mis has become a staple of musical theatre in the 27 years it has existed. With music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil, whose work includes the classic songs “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own,” Les Mis has become a part of our popular culture.

The show originally opened in London on October 8, 1985. Though critically dismissed, its incredible popularity led quickly to a Broadway transfer, and Les Mis opened on March 12, 1987 at the Broadway Theatre. Since then, numerous productions have gone on national tour, tenth and twenty-fifth anniversary concerts have been held, it was popularly revived Broadway in 2006, a Hollywood Bowl concert was staged in 2008, and Mackintosh just recently announced (to wild fan applause, most likely) that a second Broadway revival would storm the barricades in 2014.

The latest incarnation of the Les Mis phenomenon is of course the extremely successful and well-received Les Mis movie-musical. It premiered on Christmas Day of 2012 and became an instant blockbuster. Internationally, the movie has made well over $300 million, and its soundtrack hit number one on the Billboard 200 Chart and is still riding high. The film boasts Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Hathaway as Fantine), among others. The movie’s talented ensemble (which includes Broadway favorite, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras) is even slated to perform at the Oscars this Sunday, February 24.

The success of the Les Misérables movie has led to inevitable internet fandom, and a new generation of Les Mis lovers are expressing themselves on Tumblr and other social media platforms where they post fan-fiction, fan art, and gifs inspired by the musical. Though the story of Les Mis is anything but cheerful, the fandom is able to make light of the plot, like performing the ensemble number “One Day More” solely on kazoo or placing quotes from TV’s Arrested Development onto screen caps from the movie.

Although Les Misérables has been around for almost three decades and spawned numerous productions, a classic soundtrack and an Oscar-nominated film, don’t expect it to go anywhere. See it soon on Broadway, and everywhere else, for a long time to come.

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  1. It’s amazing to think how many lives this musical has touched and not only those of audience members—so many actors have portrayed these characters over time and continue to do so today! Look at Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean. The musical that changed his life forever and made him the iconic Valjean is still around and he’s still in it (this time playing the Bishop in the film). That was one of my favorite moments in the film. *Spoiler Alert* When Valjean is walking towards the Bishop at the end of the film, it was like Colm was passing the torch to Hugh Jackman, who to the generations just learning about Les Mis will be the new iconic Valjean. Incredible!