The penultimate show of WCT’s 58th season is the celebrated and beloved musical Les Misérables from the novel by Victor Hugo. Adapted for the stage in 1985 and turned into a major motion film in 2012, Les Mis is one of the most well-known musicals of the last thirty years. WCT’s production opens May 1st, and tickets are going fast! Les Mis is a decades-spanning, history-entwining show with many plots and even more characters. Below, we’ve put together a few Frequently Asked Questions. We’ll be sharing some details of the plot, but no big spoilers. (You’ll have to come see the show for those!)
What is Les Misérables about?
Les Misérables (or Les Mis for short) follows the story of the convict Jean Valjean. It begins in 1815 as Valjean leaves prison after serving a nineteen-year sentence for stealing bread. Finding work or shelter proves difficult for the parolee, who must present his yellow ticket-of-leave everywhere he goes. His circumstances–and his life–change forever when he meets a kind priest. The story checks in on Valjean’s life twice more, first in 1823 after Valjean has found success, and again in 1832 during an uprising in Paris. Beyond this one man’s story, the play also deals with themes like compassion, forgiveness, justice and injustice, and class.
Is Les Misérables based on a book?
Yes! The novel Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, was first published in France in 1862 and is generally considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century. It was translated into English and other languages immediately, and though it was not a critical success, it was commercially very popular and remains widely available to this day. At nearly 1,500 pages, it’s also one of the longest novels ever written.
When was it adapted into a musical?
The musical’s official website boasts that Les Mis is the longest running musical in the world. The earliest version of the play premiered in France in 1980, but it didn’t find critical and commercial success until five years later, when it was adapted and translated into English for its West End premiere. A year and a half later, it made its way to Broadway, where it was nominated for twelve Tony Awards. It went on to win eight, including Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Musical. If you would like to read more, the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia has an interesting article about the history of the musical here.
How do you say Enjolras?
Though he is the leader of the Friends of the ABC revolutionaries and sings lead in one of the musical’s most famous songs, “Do You Hear The People Sing?”, Enjolras’ name is never spoken aloud in Les Mis. This has led to some debate about just how his name is pronounced. Follow this link for a video featuring the correct pronunciation.
If this play takes place in France, why do they have British accents?
One of the recurring themes in Les Mis is class conflict. From poor convicts to wealthy business owners to politically-minded students to Paris street urchins, much of nineteenth-century France’s social strata is represented in the play. One of the tricks writers use to establish a character’s place in a social hierarchy is his or her accent. Most English-speaking audiences wouldn’t be able to recognize different French dialects, but we can distinguish different British dialects by class. We know, for example, that if we hear a character speaking with a Cockney accent, he is likely a poor, lower-class individual, while another character with a crisp accent and large vocabulary is probably wealthy and well-educated. These cues help the audience to know something about a character even when she has only spoken a few words.
Is Les Misérables about the French Revolution?
Nope! In fact, the French Revolution ended more than a decade before Les Misérables even begins. The uprising in the play’s second act is the June Rebellion, a relatively minor revolt that Victor Hugo witnessed as a young writer in Paris. If you’d like to learn more, there is an interesting article here. It was written around the time the 2012 film was released, and it does contain a few spoilers.
Who are the Friends of the ABC and why are they called that?
The Friends of the ABC are a fictional group of revolutionary students, including Marius Pontmercy. They play a significant role in the musical’s third section, agitating for social reform and eventually raising arms in the June Rebellion. Their headquarters is the ABC Café, where they drink and plan and talk of revolution. In French, ABC is a pun. Its French pronunciation (ah-bay-say) is similar to the word abaissés, meaning abased or lowly.
What songs will I know?
Les Misérables features a number of well-known songs, including “I Dreamed A Dream” (recently made popular again by singer Susan Boyle), “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” “On My Own,” and “Do You Hear The People Sing?” along with many others. The music was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg with lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (translated to English by Herbert Kretzmer.)
How can I learn more?
There are plenty of resources out there for people interested in learning more about Les Misérables. The official website has some interesting facts and figures. Before the national tour came to Birmingham, Alabama, this blog put together 25 interesting things to know about the show. There is a video here with more Frequently Asked Questions which incorporates music from several adaptations of Les Mis. It’s worth a watch if you have few minutes! If you have more than a few minutes, you could always read the book (or the SparkNotes if you’re in a hurry.) Our recommendation, of course, is to get your tickets now for WCT’s production!
I can’t wait! How do I get tickets?
As always, you can purchase tickets through our website, or you can call our box office (262) 547-0708 during our regular hours, 12-5 Tuesday through Friday. We are also open during Waukesha Farmer’s Markets and two hours before any show. Tickets are going fast, so don’t delay!