Book & Lyrics by Alain Boublil
Additional Lyrics by Jean-Marc Natel
English Translation and additional material by Herbert Kretzmer
Music by Claude Michel-Schonberg
adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name

INFO:

(We’ll stick to English Language versions)
Opened
at the Barbican Theater    October 8, 1985    Well over 10,000 performances. It is currently both the second-longest running West End Musical, and the second-longest running Musical in the world.
The Broadway Theatre    March 12, 1987    6,680 performances and already revived in ’06 on Broadway, bringing total Broadway performances to 7,176.
The show has had 15 concurrent professional productions world wide, a record. It’s been translated into 21 languages.
Original Director: Trevor Nunn, John Caird
Original Choreographer: Kate Flatt
Original Producer: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cameron Mackintosh
Original Leads: Valjean: Colm Wilkinson    Javert: Roger Alam    Fantine: Patti Lupone    Marius: Michael Ball
Cast Size: Male: 5    Female: 4    Children: 3    Ensemble: Very large.    Total Cast Size: 12 plus at least 16. So at least 28.
Orchestra: 14
Published Script: Available on the Internet.
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: Many and various. Get one with the entire score by a professional cast, such as on Broadway or the West End. And note that the original French version is different from the original Brirish, which expanded on the show, and then the Broadway is different again from the British.
Film: The 2012 movie with Hugh Jackman. I really didn’t like it a lot, but I really don’t like this show. There are live stage performances and concerts that have been taped, as well, which may represent the show better.
Other shows by the authors: Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre
Awards: Nominated for 10 Tonys, won 8 including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Direction.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Only the most professional colleges and universities with serious Musical Theater or opera programs should consider trying this show. It’s too large for most Little Theaters or Dinner Theaters, or even most pro regional houses and stock companies. I’m sure it will be on a Broadway or West End stage near you, if not today then soon.

Be Warned:

It’s unlikely that full performance rights will be readily available for Les Miz, unless you’re doing a Broadway or pro revival of it, so you should definitely check on its availability if you’re interested in doing it.

This is a very large show. It requires a talented cast of singing actors. It is not for kids. It is not for inexperienced companies and Directors. It is not a good show to do based on an impulse decision. This is the sort of show you plan carefully to be able to do. The resources demanded are significant.

THE STORY: (Outline from the MTI site.)

ACT ONE: Lights up on a chain gang in early 19th Century France. The men do hard labor. One prisoner, referred to as ‘number 24601,’ appears. His name is Jean Valjean and was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. His time is finally up and he is being released but Javert, an overzealous policeman, reminds him he will always be a sinner. Because he is branded as a former prisoner, it is impossible for Valjean to find work. Starving again, he is taken in by a bishop and fed; however, he flees in the night, stealing some expensive silver. The bishop, learning his plight, tells the police that he gave Valjean the silver. The bishop has bought Valjean’s soul for God, and Valjean vows to be a good citizen (“Prologue”).

Seven years later, the poor of France are starving and desperate. Inside a factory at Montreuil, a group of women are desperate to hold on to their jobs. A young woman, Fantine, will not respond to the foreman’s sexual advances. The other women discover she has a daughter out of wedlock who lives with an innkeeper in the country, and worry that Fantine’s trouble will become their trouble. A fight breaks out and the mayor and factory owner – Valjean in disguise – instructs the foreman to sort it out. He unfairly fires Fantine (“At The End Of The Day”). Desperate and alone, Fantine remembers her summer of love and the man who broke his promises that brought her to this point in life (“I Dreamed A Dream”).

Fantine finds herself in the red-light district, surrounded by sailors and whores. She tries to sell her last possessions so that she may have money for her daughter, Cosette, to see a doctor. The Madame she sells to, however, will not give her a price. Fantine is forced to sell her hair and then finally herself. However, when the time comes, she cannot bring herself to it and gets into a fight with the gentleman. Javert appears and arrests Fantine, showing her no mercy. Valjean sees her and recognizes that her misfortune is partially his doing. He has her taken to the hospital (“The Docks”).

Next, a cart crashes and Valjean inexplicably lifts so that the man trapped underneath is pulled clear. Javert recognizes Valjean’s strength as being similar to a prisoner he knew many years ago, but assures Valjean that the man has been recaptured and awaits trial (“Cart Crash”). Valjean wrestles with a moral dilemma – if he lets the other man take the fall for him, he will finally be free and the factory workers dependent on him will be taken care of; however, he also will be damned and will have reneged on his promised life for God. He decides he cannot stay silent and goes to the court, announcing his identity and then rushing away to Fantine’s hospital (“Who Am I?”).

At the hospital, Fantine is in a delirium and Valjean promises to adopt Cosette as Fatine takes her final breath (“Fantine’s Death”). Javert finds Valjean in the hospital, and again shows no mercy despite Valjean trying to explain he must rescue the child. Javert believes that any man who is a sinner will always be a sinner. The two men fight, and Valjean manages escapes.

Miles away, at an Inn, Cosette dreams of a happier life (“Castle On A Cloud”). The greedy and evil Mme. Thenardier, the innkeeper’s wife, interrupts her wistful fantasy. The Thenardier’s young daughter, Eponine is there as well. Mme. sends Cosette out into the dark to the well against Cosette’s protests (“Little Cosette”). While the inn fills with patrons, Thenardier revels with the patrons. As they get drunker and drunker, the host enumerates the many ways he cuts corners and takes advantage of his customers (“The Innkeeper’s Song”). Valjean meets young Cosette wandering in the woods and brings her back to the inn. He haggles with the Thenardiers over their darling Cosette and the couple finally settles on a price and turns the child over to Valjean (“The Bargain”).

Ten years pass and we find ourselves in the teeming, squalid streets of Paris. The beggars, led by a young boy named Gavroche, continue to suffer. Everyone is on edge (“The Beggars”). In their midst comes the young revolutionary Marius and his friend Enjolras; they seek justice from the powers in France. Only one politician cares for the poor: LeMarque. He is on his deathbed. The students plan to use his death as a catalyst for revolution. Thenardier, no longer an innkeeper, leads a gang of criminals on the street corner. Eponine, now all grown up, is torn between loyalty towards her father & mother and her attraction to old friend Marius. Suddenly, Valjean and Cosette appear; Thenardier recognizes Valjean and asks for money. They scuffle and Valjean’s shirt is ripped open showing his tattoo. Javert, not recognizing Valjean, tells him to be careful on the street (“The Robbery”). He turns to find that Valjean and Cosette, who had run into Marius, have disappeared. Thenardier tells Javert about the brand on the stranger’s chest and Javert wonders if it could be the man he has been seeking all these years. Javert, the obsessed lawman, swears that he will never rest until Valjean is behind bars (“Stars”).

Elsewhere, Marius meets Eponine to ask her to find the young girl with whom he had met earlier. Eponine then remembers her childhood with Cosette but refuses to mention anything. Out of her love for Marius, she eventually agrees to help him.

At a neighboring inn, revolutionary men talk of their plans and tease Marius about his falling in love for the first time. They prepare for their student revolution (“The ABC Café”). Barricades will rise and they will take to the streets, and all will come when called. As they cheer, Gavroche rushes in to inform them that LeMarque has passed. Enjolras, recognizing the sign to begin, leads the group in a rousing cry to action (“The People’s Song”).

Later, on the Rue Plumet, Cosette contemplates her past life, which she cannot seem to remember, and all of her father’s secrets (“Rue Plumet”). Eponine leads Marius to the street and her home. She tells of her unrequited love for Marius who exchanges affectionate words with Cosette (“A Heart Full Of Love”). Suddenly, one of Thenardier’s men come to rob the house of Valjean, but Eponine vows to protect Marius instead of helping her father. When her father refuses to be dissuaded, she screams and the robbers make for the sewers in order to escape (“The Attack On Rue Plumet”). Marius thanks Eponine for saving them and rather than betraying Eponine, Cosette tells her father it was she who screamed because of a mysterious man at the gate who ran away. Valjean now mistakenly fears the men who were lurking in the street were with Javert. He plans to flee from France with Cosette in order to escape Javert. Marius is heartbroken at the thought of losing his love, as his compatriots prepare for battle (“One Day More”)

ACT TWO: A barricade is being built in the streets of Paris. Marius sees Eponine and asks her to deliver a letter to Cosette; she agrees, though it breaks her heart. On the Rue Plumet, Eponine meets Valjean and gives him the letter (“Building the Barricade”). He realizes that Marius is in love with Cosette and quickly exits. All alone in the city streets, Eponine laments the intensity of her feelings for Marius, who does not return her affection (“On My Own”).

The barricade has been completed and even though the revolutionaries will get no official help, they believe that the people will rise to throw off their yoke of tyranny. Javert climbs the barricade, tells them of the enemies’ plans and is called a liar by Gavroche who knows the truth. Javert is tied up and is to be taken to a people’s court, which he renounces (“Javert At The Barricade”). Eponine, fatally wounded, climbs the barricade and dies in Marius’ arms, as he weeps and tells her of his deep love and admiration (“A Little Fall Of Rain”). Valjean then arrives to help and protect Marius, unbeknownst to him.

There is an attack and Valjean helps the students. Enjolras thanks him and they officially welcome him (“The First Attack”). Because of this, Enjolras gives Valjean the opportunity to take care of Javer. Valjean, however, shows mercy and cuts his bonds urging him to flee before the others find out. Javert tells Valjean even if he is freed he will continue to try to ensnare Valjean. Valjean tells the policeman he is free with no conditions and if they survive he can find him on Rue Plumet. Javert leaves, his faith shaken.

Later that night, the men drink and reflect on the situation. Valjean watches over Marius and hopes that he will survive the battle for Cosette’s sake (“Night”). The second attack begins. Marius and Valjean argue as to whom will climb the barricade to pick up desperately needed ammunition from the corpses in the street. While they argue, Gavroche climbs the barricade in defiance and is shot to death (“The Second Attack”).

The final battle begins, the revolutionaries refuse to give up, and all are killed (“The Final Battle”). The only survivors are Valjean and a seriously wounded Marius. More determined than ever, Valjean carries Marius into the sewers. They come across Thenardier, who is looting from the corpses. Valjean collapses with exhaustion and Thenardier steals Marius’ ring from the unconscious man’s finger (“Dog Eat Dog”). When he recognizes Valjean, Thenardier flees. A revived Valjean, still carrying the body of Marius, continues his journey through the sewers. As they emerge from, they meet Javert. Valjean pleads with Javert that he must save the boy’s life and that in one hour he will be Javert’s prisoner. Javert lets him go and wanders to a bridge in shock as he tries to reconcile Valjean’s letting him go free when he could have taken his revenge. His world is totally shaken and he decides to commit suicide by throwing himself into the river (“Javert’s Suicide”).

Several months later. Marius, although delusional and haunted by the ghosts of his dead friends, is slowly recovering (“Café Song”). Encouraged by Cosette, he becomes stronger and stronger. The young lovers proclaim their feelings for one another and Marius acknowledges his debt to Valjean. With Cosette out of the room, Valjean reveals his plans of leaving forever but not before he tells Marius of his past crime, punishment, and breaking of parole. He insists he must leave in order to protect Cosette from his dark past (“Marius and Cosette”).

Now at Marius and Cosette’s wedding, the Thenadiers — disguised as Baron and Baroness de Thenard — arrive. Posing as nobility, they refuse to leave and for a small price, they will reveal who saved him the night the barricade fell. When a ring is revealed, Marius informs Cosette that Valjean is his savior; they must go see him. The Thenadiers stay behind and celebrate with stolen silver (“The Wedding”).

We transition to Valjean, alone in his room, waiting to die. The spirit of Fantine appears to tell him that because he fulfilled his promise by raising Cosette, he will finally be with God. Marius and Cosette then enter and Marius thanks Valjean for saving his life. Valjean gives Cosette his last confession: the story of those who loved her. The ghosts of Fantine and Eponine take Valjean to his glory while Valjean reminds Cosette that love is of highest importance and they will all be free when ‘tomorrow’ comes (“Epilogue”).

THE SONGS: (Note – The piece is sung-through, like an opera. There are a lot of numbers. Also, the song list below does not align with the outline above. There are numerous versions of this show.)

“Prologue: Work Song”, “On Parole”, “Valjean Arrested, Valjean Forgiven”, “What Have I Done?”, “At the End of the Day”, “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Lovely Ladies”, “Fantine’s Arrest”, “The Runaway Cart”, “Who Am I?”, “Fantine’s Death”, “The Confrontation”, “Castle on a Cloud”, “Master of the House”, “The Well Scene”, “The Bargain / The Thénardier Waltz of Treachery”, “Look Down”, “The Robbery / Javert’s Intervention”, “Stars”, “Éponine’s Errand”, “The ABC Café / Red and Black”, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, “In My Life”, “A Heart Full of Love”, “The Attack on Rue Plumet”, “One Day More”, “At the Barricade (Upon These Stones)”, “On My Own”, “Building the Barricade (Upon These Stones)”, “Javert’s Arrival”, “Little People”, “A Little Fall of Rain”, “Night of Anguish”, “The First Attack, “Drink with Me”, “Bring Him Home”, “Dawn of Anguish”, “The Second Attack (Death of Gavroche)”, “The Final Battle”, “The Sewers”, “Dog Eats Dog (The Sewers)”, “Javert’s Suicide”, “Turning”, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, “Every Day/A Heart Full of Love (Reprise), “Valjean’s Confession”, “Wedding Chorale”, “Beggars at the Feast”, “Epilogue: Valjean’s Death”, “Finale: Do You Hear the People Sing (Reprise)”

Hits include “I Dreamed A Dream”, “Do You Hear The People Sing?”, “On My Own”, “Bring Him Home”.

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to skip or ignore my opinions and rating. And if you really like this show, I recommend you do just that, no joke. This part will be lengthy, and I’m going to grouse. Seriously, I immensely dislike this show. You are warned.

The critics generally disliked this show when it opened in the U.K. The show was nominated for four Oliviers, and won one. This, for the second-most successful Musical of all time? Yup, and for once, I’m of one mind with the critics. I really dislike Les Miz, and for many reasons. Is it a better show than an “average” Musical, the kind I don’t talk about on this site? Sure it is, it’s an achievement in its own right. Is it a good show? Not so much.

The Musical is based on the great novel by French writer and poet Victor Hugo.

He also wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which gave us a rather terrible Disney Musical, and a flop Musical from Oliver composer Lionel Bart. I want to suggest now and for the record that Mr. Hugo’s great works do not musicalize very well, and should be left alone by future generations.

The Musical Les Mis, is sung-through, as an opera would be. This does no favors to this particular story, or for this particular composer. The music is a lot of basically two things; 1) Very loud, windy, overwrought anthems (“Who Am I”, “Do You Hear The People Sing”, “Stars”, “One Day More”…), and 2) introspective ballads that occasionally build into loud, windy, overwrought anthems (“On My Own”, “Bring Him Home”, “I Dreamed A Dream”). The common musical threads throughout are overwrought and windy. This is a show that buys into what your Jr. High drama teacher taught you – loud is good. And I suppose, then, that loud singing is better. And shouted singing, well, we’ve arrived at Nirvana.

The composer of Les Miz simply hasn’t the musical variety or ability to pull off an opera, which this show so clearly longs to be. Instead, we get a sort-of pop operetta, a light opera that is working very hard to sound something like Grand Opera. So singers hit their upper registers and stay there, ringing out high note after headache-inducing high note. Song after song. And glass, amazingly, does not shatter.

I am not exaggerating. I saw this show in its national tour. Half way through Act II, I turned to my wife, who was an opera singer. She was suffering through the pain and anguish of Exposure To Medicrity, and I had a headache. This is the only live show I’ve ever actually walked out of. The fact that we were mid-orchestra in a 2,000 seat theatre, and that walking out in the way we did carried a stigma, made no difference to either of us. We left, and we were thrilled to escape the misery that is most of Les Mis. For me. That night, you could definitely number my wife and I as among The Miserables.

This show helped make up my mind about Jr. High drama teachers. Louder does not equate to more emotion, and it certainly isn’t always good. Singing very high does not always equate to more emotion, either. But the two musical tricks employed endlessly by Mr. Schonberg are to start a song softly and build it until it’s high and loud, or take something that is already high and loud, and build it until it’s higher and louder. Though there are some lovely melodies in this show (yes, there are), overall, I find the music more than annoying, more than tedious, I find in to be an assault.

More on the music. I find that sung-through pieces run a unique risk. Too much music can make everything in the score sound of equal importance. Usually in a Musical, there’s dialogue. The singing happens when something emotional or important is happening. But in a sung-through piece, we’re to assume that everything in the whole show is emotional and important., all of it deserves to be sung. And from a drama viewpoint, this is simply not so, and a very bad idea as a rule. Very few operas stand up as drama because the singers sing everything, from “I will kill myself now,” to “the phone is ringing,” to “we’re having tuna for lunch.” And that is exactly what happens in Les Mis. Everything is sung, so everything is “important”, which means that no moment is unique or “more” important than any other moment. And since I find much of that story sort of silly and unimportant, and all of it is sung, I can only assume the rest isn’t very important, either. And so I do assume, sorry to say.

Hey, writers of sung-through pieces – listen up for a moment! The audience’s adrenal glands can only pump out so much energy in a two hour period. (Same for the poor singers.) And the audience doesn’t know your story. So it’s important to guide them to the dramatic high points – assuming there are some – and to not eliminate high dramatic or comic moments by equating them to all the other moments in your show. That’s part of the craft of creating a Musical Theater piece. A craft notably missing from Les Mis.

And then there’s those spectacularly poorly-constructed English lyrics. Mr. Kretzmer never saw an actual rhyme he liked, apparently. There is a standard for lyric writing on Broadway and in professional theater, and I think it’s a good standard. It separates out what we write for theater from pop music, and it works very well for live theatrical presentation of a story. It includes a thing called a “perfect rhyme.” Now, don’t get all huffy on me, Les Maniacs! The “perfect” here is not a value judgment. It’s a technical term. It has to do with how vowels and consonants are combined to create an actual rhyme that will grab the listener and impinge. There are a few rather simplistic perfect rhymes in the English Les Miz, but I think they were inserted by accident, perhaps by some embarrassed publisher or orchestrator. Les Miz boasts the worst lyrics of any major show. Worse than Cats, and that is really saying something. And I just said it. Or wrote it, anyway.

I went to see the film version of Les Mis when it was released, with a friend who is writing very fine music for Musicals. He insisted we go, that Les Miz is one of the biggest shows ever, a phenomenon, and I (of all unfortunates) had to see it. I saw it, but I spent almost the entire time grimacing and moaning. In a very crowded theatre, I might add, to my embarrsassment. Because it was a film, the soundtrack was far clearer than a live stage presentation. That meant you could really hear those awful lyrics. I observed my friend grimacing as well, just about every fourth line or so. I think he apologized later for subjecting me to another helping of overcooked Les Mis.

I am far from alone in my dislike for this show.

More. The story itself is brutally, baldly, and to me, embarrassingly manipulative.

Now, all Musicals and all entertainment manipulates. True enough. But we’re talking about a matter of degree, of magnitude, now. Politicians, the masters of manipulation, do their dirty work by shaking hands, kissing babies, remembering names, making promises they know you want to hear made. This show makes every politician that ever lived look like a minor, amateur manipulator, a piker in the game of controlling the emotions of the rubes. I mean really? Starving children and good girls forced into a life of prostitution and starvation, a good man forced to run from the law his entire life, and good young men dying for a cause doomed from the start, and so much more. Hugo, pardon me, is no Dickens or Shakespeare. He piles it on, and has no idea when to stop, at least where this story is concerned. I’ve read part of the book (as much as I cared to), and it is better than the Musical by a country mile. But it is far too manipulative and blatant for my tastes. I just don’t care for this kind of story-telling much. I like to be treated more like an adult.

Les Mis has given thousands of actors employment for tens of thousands of performances around the world. It has made its authors wealthy, very. It solidified Cameron Mackintosh’s reputation as the most successful Producer in history. Hell, it was even turned into a major motion picture with big stars and everything! So what do I know?

I know I really don’t like Les Mis.

And by the way, I’ve heard many people tout this as the great French Revolutionary musical. Um, it’s not about the French Revolution, it’s about a student revolt that occurred earlier in history. Many of the same people tell me this is a great show about something important. It is neither, I’m afraid. But it is overwrought, windy and oh, so loud.

MY RATING:  (An average show – but better than most shows not represented in this book. A good match for certain groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

There’s a lot of music in Les Miz. It never stops, as a matter of fact. Yup, wall-to-wall music. A lot of it shares a common structure, as described above. One trick a Director and Musical Director will have to pull off is isolating each moment in the continuous score. Individual moments, particularly key songs, need to stand out and be special.

Your lead singers will need some almost classical ability, while not sounding like they’re singing opera. This isn’t pop, far from it, but it tries to be a bit of pop and a bit of Puccini, and I suppose that’s exactly how it turned out. It’s a fine line to walk and your singers will need to understand the full-throated style invoked.

Jean Valjean – Tenor, a mature voice with a broad, open and powerful top range and expressive, emotional mid-range. He’s got a lot of difficult singing to do, make sure he has the voice and probably the training to survive it.

Inspector Javert – Baritone, precise in delivery, able to project determination and anger vocally. Must have a powerful instrument.

Fantine – A Mezzo with a beautifully expressive voice, strong mid-range but capable of withholding the volume in favor of intimacy.

Eponine – A belt voice, expressive, powerful.

Marius – Tenor, emotional, good high notes.

Cosette – Soprano, lyric quality but capable of full-throated delivery as well.

Young Cosette – Mezzo, a child with a child’s voice, but clean pitch, sweet if hollow high notes.

Thenardier – Tenor, comic character-driven voice.

Madame Thenardier – Mezzo, character-driven voice.

Gavroche – Tenor. A boy with a big voice for a boy.

Enjolras – Lyric Baritone or Tenor.

Bishop – Baritone.

Ensemble – All will need to sing and belt well, harmonize well, have solid high notes for their register.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

There is a lot of movement in this show, but not much dance. The singing and the story/character development are what drive Les Mis. There is a lot of marching in place and posturing, however, in most productions. All productions. If you can avoid some of that, please do so.

A Choreographer will need to confer and work closely with the Director to determine where choreographic aid will be required. It’s all music, after all. Some numbers you can probably count on having to work with include

“At the End of the Day”, “Master of the House”,“The ABC Café / Red and Black”, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”,“One Day More”, “At the Barricade (Upon These Stones)”, “Building the Barricade (Upon These Stones)”,“The First Attack, “The Second Attack (Death of Gavroche)”, “The Final Battle”, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and “Finale: Do You Hear the People Sing (Reprise)”.

“At The End Of The Day” should boil and roil with fury and desperation. The movement could be jagged rather than fluid, discomforting, establish the violence that is to follow. And rather than the “hive mind” mentality that seems to go into its staging generally, create separate characters for every actor up there, with unique worries and concerns and responses to the world around them. The effect is not so much a mass group acting in sympathy, but a flood of drops of water being pushed through too small an aperture. The expressions of anger are intended by the individual, but as a group they appear random, uncontrolled, and dangerous.

“Master Of The House” is, um, the comic relief. It should remain ever focused on the Master and his Misses, and their graceless if talented thievery. You know, the one they’re singing real loudly about, that they should not really want anyone to know about… Yes, they somehow make a virtue of their vices. I guess. This is the weakest big number in the show, the writers really don’t get comedy numbers. Make it funny, or at least make us admire their cleverness and resourcefulness.

You now run into trouble as a choreographer. “Do You Hear The People Sing?”, and “One Day More”, though they have differing rhythmic impulses, are essentially the same number about roughly the same thing. Emphasize their differences. Find differing tempos and rhythms impelling each number. And try not to play all your cards in “People Sing,” as the other number follows not too far behind and two numbers with ensemble arms raised to the sky in victory (premature and rather foolishly) is one too many.

“Empty Chairs” could be interesting, if you get creative. It could become a bit of a ghost ballet, empty chairs haunted by those who have fallen. The living surrounded by their (visible) memories of the dead is haunting, and soon, more will join them, if the audience is paying attention.

This is no dance show. Movement should be driven by character and plot. But try to avoid the walk and pose type of “choreography” that infects productions of shows like this.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Jean Valjean – In his 40s-50s. Plays a wide age-range during the show. Honorable, heroic, resourceful. He is a man filled with fury for what has been done to him, and with pity that becomes action for those he perceives as endangered and worthy. Cast for voice, acting, type, that order, but get them all right.

Inspector Javert – Same age range as Valjean. Intense, deeply moral, deeply committed to law and order, and utterly convinced that once a criminal, always a criminal. A man who has nothing but his tenuous understanding of the world as seen through a very small lens of righteousness, and who cannot bear to live with himself when he realizes he has done a man terrible wrong. Cast for voice, acting, type.

Fantine – In her 20s, once lovely, a young woman driven into poverty and the worst sort of life, and not long for this world. Fragile, unable to adjust, reeking of fear and desperation. But she remembers what she was, she remembers her dreams, which she knows she will never realize. Cast for voice, type, acting.

Eponine – Late teens-early 20s. Fearless, devoted, will do anything for love. Lovely, strong, able. Cast for voice, acting, type.

Marius – Early 20s. Earnest, dedicated, not quite fearless but heroic and romantic. Cast for voice, type, acting, some movement.

Cosette – Late teens-20s. Beautiful, precious, cultured, protected, romantic. Cast for voice, type, acting, some movement.

Young Cosette – Whatever age to play 8. A child whose life is being stolen from her day by day. Sweet, naïve, blameless. Cast for age, type, voice, acting.

Thenardier – Mid 30s-50s. A second-rate thief without conscience for the most part, ever looking for an angle to play. Cast for acting, type, voice, movement.

Madame Thenardier – Around her husband’s age. Same type. Cast for acting, type, voice, movement.

Gavroche – A young boy, 9-14 or so. A streetwise urchin. Cat for type, voice, acting, some movement.

Enjolras – 20s, leader of the revolutionaries, a bit of a firebrand. Cast for voice, type, acting, some movement.

Bishop – A mature man, mid 30s on up. A kind man with a keen eye for human nature. Cast for type, acting, voice.

Ensemble – All must sing, move, belt, have decent high notes, harmonize well.

SETS:

There are many locations Les Miz takes place in. You can’t do full sets for all of them, you will need to go with either cut-aways, or suggestive pieces on a unit set (my pick). The setting changes constantly, and must be liquid and change almost instantly. If you don’t accomplish fluidity and speed in your “set” changes, your performances are likely to be interminable.

So I’d go for a unit set, a Parisian cut of streets and such, with walls that move aside to reveal the Inn, perhaps a residence or two than can be quickly changed into other residences behind the closed walls, that sort of thing.

Or I’d use a carousel with perhaps three segment, and get the best crew alive.

Or no set at all, just isolated light, and pieces of furniture and perhaps an indicative cut away or two flown in or walked in.

I think what you do will be almost entirely determined by your budget and the magnitude of your production. Regardless, you’ll need a creative and expert Set Designer.

COSTUMES:

All period, of course, a lot of it common. Javert is often dressed in black, as if the Parisian cops at that time were. Perhaps they were, it should be researched, it does seem a bit on the nose. Valjean’s clothing might demonstrate his growing wealth, from prison garb, to runaway, to seven years later a wealthy man. This can be done by throwing costuming on over the prison garb. But you will have time for a costume change there.

Costuming is, overall, earth tones, nearly puritanical. France was and is largely a Catholic nation, so crosses and other such paraphernalia should be used. Try to get flashes of color in, perhaps the students could wear something each that ties them to the colors on their flag, to give that scene added pop and unity.

Get the shoes right. And always remember the cast, particularly the leads, will be doing a ton of singing and must be able to breathe. A job for a reasonably experienced Designer.

PROPS:

Many, in period. From Valjean’s prison work equipment, to the factory work equipment, to the drinks and such in the Inn, etc, this is a busy show with a lot of props that all need to look period. Many can be rented, of curse, some will need to be built.

Get an experienced Prop Master.

LIGHTING:

Very rich in moods, and able to isolate attention while creating emotional impact. A complex show to light, as scenes move fluidly and moods change at the blink of an eye. Lighting must remain reasonably subtle, and not draw attention, while creating the desired effects. A job for a professional with experience with large shows.

MAKE-UP:

Probably going to need many wigs of varying sorts. For instance, Fantine goes from reasonably gainfully employed to ruin, and her hair must change. Some hair must be grandly in-period, such as Cosette’s. Unless you’re going to do it up each night, you’ll need a wig or two.

Women of culture should be more “made-up” than the ladies living in harder ways. Look at paintings from the period, particularly of Parisians. That’s where the show got it’s logo from, this painting by Gustave Brion (1824-1877.)

A serious make-up assignment for a reasonably experienced Designer.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Jean Valjean, Javert.

MY THOUGHTS:
Nope, I really don’t have any more thoughts about Les Mis. I really have given it all the thought I believe it merits. I have numerous acting friends I love who have been in this show, some in the original British production. (One of those was also in the first Cats. I feel for her.) I apologize to them for the pointed approach I’ve taken here.

But there is one thing outside the show itself. Cameron Mackintosh must be the greatest marketing mind the theater has ever sported. To make Les Miz, Cats, and Phantom ginormous, monster hits unlike almost anything the theater had ever experienced prior, given the overall quality (or lack thereof) those shows possess, is the work of a marketing Napoleon, a ticket-selling Einstein. And it proves that other great showbiz-marketing mastermind, P.T. Barnum, was right, I suppose. (Not sure what I mean? Take a look at the title for the Musical Barnum, right here on this site!) It doesn’t make me too happy, though.