When it was announced in 1986 that the hit London production of Les Miserables was moving to Broadway, experts said it would be too long, too depressing, too European for American tastes. And that title!
Yet, on March 12, Les Miz marks its 10th anniversary on Broadway, something a bare handful of shows has ever done.
What accounts for its popularity with audiences, its longevity, its ability to remain significant to what is literally a second generation of theatregoers?
E mail your explanation to Playbill On-Line managing editor Robert Viagas
Please include your town and state, and please note whether you'd like us to include your full e-mail address so you can receive responses. This is optional, of course. Here are the results so far. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took the time to write.
From Maria (LuvMarius@aol.com):
It's simple really. It is a timeless story. The characters are deep and realistic. Everyone feels for Eponine, the girl whose love is not returned; Marius who is trying so hard to be a man and fight for freedom yet so much still a child; Jean Valjean, who has been imprisoned for 19 years just because he was trying to save his dying family from starvation; Fantine, who would do anything, even sell her body and her soul, to save her daughter.
These are real people with real stories and viewers can feel that. Love, Power, Freedom, Injustice, Poverty and finally Justice!!! This show is so powerful. It runs the gamut of emotions. When one sees Les Miz, they are pulled in several directions and taken into the lives of these people.
The music is some of the most incredible compositions and lyrics I have ever heard. Just listening to it feels like you are there. People like to go to the theatre to escape their lives. Les Miz is a chance for them to pull away from their lives and delve into the lives of others.
Basically, it is a timeless classic, with characters you can relate to and feel for. I don't think there is one dry eye in the theatre when Eponine dies! Or when Jean Valjean sings "Bring Him Home." It is truly the most moving musical I have ever seen! (3/12/97)
The tale Victor Hugo originally told was perhaps one of the greatest epics ever put to paper. A story of a man condemned by society who rose from the depths of misery and made his life the picture of self-giving is highly inspiring, and can touch those who have faced any obstacles in their lives. The tale told by Schonberg and Bublil is one of the survival of men who beat great odds, women who sacrifice, children who are cunning, and students who would martyr themselves to try to improve their world. These ideals reach out to everyone, and help everyone realize that there are some things worth sacrificing and fighting for, no matter what you may face. This is often forgotten in our day, but Les Miserables reminds us that the concepts of integrity and generosity of the heart are not yet dead. Drink with me to another ten years!!! (3/12/97)
From B.P. (firstname.lastname@example.org) Bensalem, PA:
Les Miserables has lasted so long and has remained popular for many reasons. No matter what a person's background is, they can find a character, situation, or emotion which they can identify with, ranging from Eponine's unfulfilled love, to the misery of the workers, and to the elation of Jean Valjean in the presence of Cosette. The stories presented in Les Miserables mirror what we come across, and perhaps even live, in our everyday lives. (I think that's why other realistic shows such as RENT are so popular.)
Also, the themes of love and redemption, and the lessons contained in the story, are universal. After all, the novel on which the musical is based has remained popular for more than a century, and was even carried by Civil War soldiers under the command of Robert E. Lee. If we don't know where we're coming from, how do we know where we're going? By delving into the depths of human nature, we learn about humankind and thus further enhance ourselves. To take part of a quote by Victor Hugo,"...So long as ignorance and misery remain on earth,books like this cannot be useless."
The entertainment value, of course,is another reason. The sweeping score adds to the epic story and draws the audience in. Some people say the show is too long, but when I see it, the three enjoyable hours go by so quickly, because there is so much to take in visually and audibly. No matter how many times you see it, each performance is always different, and new details and nuances are evident. Unlike some other shows, instead of allowing the effects and props to overshadow and detract from the story, they enhance the story through simplicity. Basically, I think the overall familiarity of the stories and the simplicity have allowed it to withstand the test of time. (3/10/97)
From Greg Santucci ((PSUGrover@aol.com)) Emerson, NJ :
On March 12th, I will be in attendance as the 10th Anniversay of the world's most popular musical will be celebrated. It will also be my 10th time seeing this production. Why had it lasted? First of all, for many fans, a Broadway show is measured by whether or not you take the songs with you out of the theatre. If you are whistling the tunes a day, a week, or a month after seeing the show, you know you enjoyed it. If that is the case, Les Miz will last forever. The sheer energy of the music will keep the audience filled for a long time.
Second, the characters are incredible. You have a love story, a battle, and a fugitive being chased down. You even have comedy in a show interpreted as The Miserable Ones. There is something for everyone. You laugh, you cry, and you get up three hours later thinking that it was only 15 minutes!
The broad appeal of Les Miz has made it a show that is one step above all others currently on Broadway. If you pull the plug on Phantom, there is no show! Les Miz is not flashy, it's all plot and wonderful music.
I'm looking forward to seeing it on March 12th. I know every word to the three hour musical, but remarkably, it will STILL be NEW! (3/11/97)
From Patrick Elkins:
I don't know why its so popular but I just want to thank the world that it's there. People who consider themselves truly into musicals will spend most of their time complaining about pop musicals such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, but these shows are bringing the common person back into the theatres, and this is something America needs. They need to get of their butts and get out of in front of the television. Musicals and plays are a great alternative to television which takes no effort to watch. It's hard to watch a theatrical presentation without some kind of emotion towards it. Let shows like Les Miz and Phantom bring the audiences back then we'll hook them on the entire theatre genre. May this bring about the New Golden Age of Broadway. (3/11/97)
From Kevin Willis:
Les Mis will never be old because the storyline is universal. It is a story about the triumph of love over all obstacles. While some may think the last statement "corny", Les Mis pulls it off like no other I have ever seen. Les Mis has something for everyone. Whether it is the story, the music, the revolving stage, the effects, there is something present for all to enjoy.
Les Mis is what I consider to be a "crossover show." What I mean by this is that it attracts people who wouldn't normally see a broadway musical. Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon are in the same category. People from all backgrounds have seen Les Mis, know someone who's seen it, or maybe can tell you something about it. It is a show for all time and I for one hope it never dies! (3/11/97)
From Faith L. Burwasser (FaithBur@aol.com):
Why has Les Mis lasted so long? I can think of a number of reasons. First of all, it's a sweeping story that features so many interesting characters. I find that even smaller characters (i.e. Grantiare) are intriuging. Plus, IMO, every single character is movitvated purely by an intense passion to do what they consider is "right"- however misguided that may be. I find that I am drawn in to caring about the people I see onstage for 3+ hrs.
Another key reason for the show's success are its themes of love, hope and forgiveness. The characters on stage may live what one would think are "miserable" lives, but hope and love uplift them and get them through their struggles. I know that the show is personally meaningful to many people (including me)- I believe this is because Les Mis reminds people to hope, no matter how bad life gets.
But, finally, no show would last a long time if it was not entertaining. I can never get bored of the music. Moreover, I can always find new things in the show, no matter how many times I see it. In short, I think that a major reason for the enduring appeal of Les Mis is because it is an enjoyable show that has more depth to it than mere spectacle. (3/11/97)
I think the reason is fairly obvious: the musical strike an emotional chord with its audience. Even though the play is fatally flawed (weak "June/Spoon" lyrics, windy and dull recitatives, entirely too many musical repeats) and a watered-down retelling of a great novel, it has an epic sweep and terrific direction that sweeps you up and carries you along. The "operatic" elements (through sung, big ensembles, trios, duets,etc.) lend the play an emotional grandeur that is lacking completely from the other so-called mega musicals. And the audience builds a real attachment to the plight of Eponine (who really CARES about the Phantom or Grizabella?) . A great musical? Hardly. But a musical that gives its audience what it wants. (3/10/97)
The longevity of Les Mis is due to one overwelming fact: its not a play - it's a page from our own very daily lives!
I saw the play on Thursday March 6, 1997. There is no question about it. The story line, the songs, the acting and singing talents of the cast make the over 3 hours production seem like a 20-minute sitcom. I found myself riveted, listening to every word, every note, watching the simple stage setting transform from a wooden stage to the very heart of France in days gone by.
It starts off simple, quiet and one may wonder where is the spectacular show that has been on Broadway for 10 years. As it moves slowly, cautiously and deliberatly from scene to scene, the wonder and apprehension of the first 5 minutes fades into your being pulled into the show - you are not watching a play - you are part of the very action taking place. You find youself slaving and afraid to look up during the opening scene, you are part of the theft of silver and at the same time you are part of the forgiveness as the Bishop forgives and says start a new life. We have all been there - down on our luck while someone wants to give us a chance. We laugh as we are taken for a fool by the Master of the house, we feel the pain of a dying mother as she worries about the future of her daughter, we know the love of a father as he tries to protect his daughter from a young suitor, we see the love grow as two young people wed, the persuit of an officer who vowed to bring a criminal to justice, only to have compassion bestowed upon him by the very criminal he persures, the agony of a father as he tries to hide his past for the love of his daughter and the final act of love when a young girl accepts her father despite some of the things in his past.
The play remians fresh because it is not a play - it is our very life - a life we live day to day. We are not simply watching Les Mis, we are a living a part of it. While the time and place may be different, the scenes are part of our everyday life. We are not watching fiction - we are living reality. Life is filled with twists and turns and Les Mis brings to light that while we may have a bad moment, good can come to those who are good. It a part of live we strive to live for. (3/10/97)
From Brian Madigan (BrianDM@aol.com) Syracuse, NY:
Simple. Great music, clever lyrics, and a timeless inspirational story. (3/10/97)