Les Misérables

 

 

We saw Les Misérables this afternoon.  I freely confess that I loved it.  It wasn’t quite the cast of my soundtrack CDs or that I’ve heard in major theaters in major cities.  But it was very, very good.  Brian Vaughn was extremely strong as Inspector Javert (his voice seems to be getting better and better with the passing years), and, although I was already familiar with her as a very good actress, I didn’t realize that his wife, Melissa Pfundstein (Fantine) could sing.  But she can, and quite well.  And J. Michael Baily’s Jean Valjean was up to his task.

 

Why is Les Misérables so remarkably popular, even beloved?  I suspect that there are a number of interrelated factors.  It appeals to our hunger for moral goodness, for example, while refusing (to put it mildly) to gloss over terrible moral evil. It addresses questions of grace and justice.  It expresses the human desire for freedom.  It provides a powerful tale of redemption.  It promises an eschatological resolution, a paradise in which “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).  And yet it also encourages a thoroughly non-escapist hope for a better world here on earth.  In fact, it invites its audiences to engage social evils and overcome them:

 

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes . . .
Tomorrow comes!

 

Although it permits Thénardier to make (and, himself, to embody) an explicit and very strong case against the existence of a caring Deity, it is, in fact, a powerfully and expressly religious play.  It celebrates the yearning most of us feel, at least intermittently, for God, and for God’s Kingdom.

 

I’ve met at least a few people who look down on Les Misérables.  I can’t.  It moves me deeply.  I would be ashamed of myself, frankly, if it didn’t.

 

Exactly a month ago, I was in St. Peter Port, Guernsey, in the English Channel, where, in exile from France, Victor Hugo lived from 1855-1870 and, among other things, wrote Les Misérables.   I recall reading somewhere that Ayn Rand was heavily influenced by Victor Hugo.  She also said something to the effect that she created heroic characters as she would like humans to be, and then constructed stories around them.  Hugo certainly did that with Jean Valjean in Les Misérables – and (I say this as someone who relished her novels in my late teens and more or less shares her libertarian economics) did so with a much more deeply soul-satisfying worldview than she did.

 

Cedar City, Utah.

 

 

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  • http://mormon.org Tracy Hall Jr

    “Do you hear the people sing . . . ” was the mission song of an LDS mission in Eastern Europe not too many years ago. I heard a few dozen returned missionaries sing it in sacrament meeting in Provo when their mission president reported his mission. What a thrill!

  • HeavyGuy51

    As a Catholic Christian, aware now that the NOVEL from which this musical was adapted, was once on the church’s Index of Forbidden Books (abolished in the 1960s), I have to state that only the novel, with it’s characters at times making controversial theological statements which might confuse the masses, was on that list. The play/this musical, did not exist at the time, and contains NOTHING objectionable to faith or morals. I have been a lover of the musical Les Miserables since the 1980s, which it was first released as a concept album and after it premiered in London and then later New York. As an actor, and as a human being, I have never loved another play anywhere nearly as much as I love and cherish Les Mis.


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