It started as an 1862 epic French novel by Victor Hugo. But Les Misérables didn’t really take off until those urchins, heroes and villains started to sing — sorry, make that, belt. Now, with the recent Oscar-winning movie adaptation and the new Broadway revival, Les Mis is hotter than ever. And while this internationally beloved show has always had its ardent admirers, there are some people who seriously love this sung-through modern classic with its soaring score, unforgettable characters and sweeping storyline that encompasses decades of history, passion and fighting on the barricades of Paris. So how do you stack up in the super-fan department? Read on to see if this sounds like you.
You have strong feelings about the turntable
Say the world “turntable” to a Les Mis fan, and you are likely to get an earful. When director Trevor Nunn’s original production arrived on Broadway in 1987, the set centered on the turntable — which dovetailed brilliantly with the show’s theme of “turning” as the years passed by. In the current revival, the new directors (Laurence Connor and James Powell) have re-imagined the whole spectacle. And as any Les Mis-ophile knows well, this time there’s no rotating stage, but more realistic sets that evoke early 1800s France in much more specific detail. There are also clever, cinematic projections, especially as Jean Valjean, Marius and the evil Thénardiar dash about in the city’s underbelly in the second act. If you are a super-fan, you either can’t get over the stationery set, or you celebrate the new staging. And you will vehemently defend your preference.
You have a favorite Fantine
Let’s face it: “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of Broadway’s original power ballads, paving the way for roof-raising numbers like “Why, God, Why?” from Miss Saigon and Wicked’s “Defying Gravity.” Plenty of divas have played Les Mis’ tragic heroine and sung this early-evening showstopper over the years. As a super-fan, you know which one you love best. And you’ll defend your choice tirelessly. Maybe it’s Patti LuPone, who originated the role in London and famously didn’t want to repeat the part when the show arrived on Broadway. Or perhaps it’s Randi Graff, who opened the show on the Great White Way. Or it could be the current Fantine, Caissie Levy, whose lighter handling of the tune has won over many fans. Anne Hathaway even won an Oscar for her big-screen take on this song and role (more on that later). In total, there are 32 recordings of the show’s score available, in everything from Japanese to Swedish. So maybe you haven’t even heard your favorite Fantine yet.
You know what was cut with Les Mis 2.0
In late 2000, after the original production had run almost 13 years on Broadway, cuts were made to shorten the show’s running time by about 14 minutes. Nothing was eliminated entirely, but trims were made to individual scenes throughout, and songs like Gavroche’s “Little People” got reduced significantly. In the end, this meant the curtain came down just before 11pm, so overtime didn’t kick in for stagehands, dressers and other behind-the-scenes staff. This allowed the producers to save lots of money — and keep the production going longer than it might have otherwise. The current production clocks in at just under three hours, right on time.
You can’t wait for the Thénardiers to show up
The scheming innkeepers who take in Fantine’s young daughter Cosette are the perfect combination of distasteful villains and delicious comic relief. And they’ve got one of the show’s catchiest uptempo numbers. So as someone who knows this show inside and out, you just sit there, squirming away in your seat while you wait for “Master of the House” and its tuneful opening vamp to begin. And then, once the number kicks into full effect and everyone’s raising a glass to these odious characters who water down the wine and put a parrot into the sausage grinder, you can’t help but tapping your foot along to the beat. They’ve also got a late-show reprise you simply can’t resist.
You immediately spotted the changes in the movie
For the highly anticipated, big-budget Hollywood film adaptation of the show, fans were excited but understandably wary. Would the West Coast suits take artistic license with this much-loved classic? How would Hugh Jackman put his stamp on the role of Valjean? In the end, the film’s director and collaborators made some surprisingly canny choices. For one thing, they slightly rearranged the order of Fantine’s story, so she gets fired from the factory, falls into prostitution, sells her hair and only then delivers her massive emotional wail of a song, “I Dreamed A Dream” (which was filmed in one masterful take). The filmmakers added a sword fight to “The Confrontation” number between Valjean and his nemesis Javert (upping the dramatics), included a few short scenes to help explain why Valjean keeps eluding the police inspector’s dogged pursuit, and even inserted a new song for Valjean called “Suddenly,” which helps gives our hero even more character depth as the story progresses.
You have a signature ballad
In crafting the show, the Les Mis writers gave each of the major characters a moment (or several) in the spotlight to really break out their vocal chops — both Valjean and Javert get showy soliloquies, after all. So if you’re a super-fan, you have a ballad that’s especially near and dear to your heart. It could be Eponine’s heartbreaking “On My Own,” Valjean’s tender “Bring Him Home” or Marius’ sorrowful “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” They’re all singular ballads that really deliver the emotion in tuneful, unforgettable ways.
You know how central Enjolras is to the story
When it comes to the younger characters, most theatergoers focus on Marius, Cosette and Eponine. But a true Les Mis connoisseur knows that rabble-rousing Enjolras is just as central to the plot. He’s the one who gets all the other students riled up in the cause. He’s front and center during the lengthy fight sequence. And he sings the classic anthem “The People’s Song” (“Do You Hear the People Sing?”) in the first act. His death is also major moment — he falls slumped atop the barricade, and his body is taken away pitifully in a wheelbarrow. In the original production, the actor who played this role, Michael Maguire, even won a Tony for the part.
You can’t help but cry at the end.
There is not a dry eye in the house when the final moments come, starting with a much-anticipated wedding, then a ghost Fantine escorting Valjean to the great beyond, while there’s a full-cast-sung, stirring reprise of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” It’s the culmination of an almost three-hour show full of emotional ups and downs. And every super-fan feels the tears welling in their eyes, no matter if it’s the first, fifth or 20th time they’ve seen the show. And it will happen again and again, every time that final note is hit.