By Lim Yi He
First published as a French historical novel about the June Rebellion by Victor Hugo in 1862, Les Misérables has since been popularised through numerous adaptations for stage, television and film. Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed musical production reached Singapore this May at the Esplanade Theatre.
Les Misérables has been one of my favourite musicals of all time, and I really could not pass up the opportunity to watch it. It was brilliant, of course – my fangirl heart is very much sated at the moment. Speaking as a fan of Les Misérables, what makes the musical so memorable and compelling is how the characters are portrayed. Their flaws make them realistic; their emotions make them human. Even the very nature of their problems is relatable – after all, desperation drives people to do inconceivable things.
The characters represent the different facets of humanity, at its worst and at its best – Monsieur and Madame Thénardier’s greed, Fantine’s sacrifice, Cosette’s innocence, Eponine’s jealousy, Marius’s idealism, Javert’s responsibility and Valjean’s redemption paint a vivid picture of life in all its glory. Valjean has always been my favourite character. He is driven by his guilt complex – his all-consuming guilt eclipses all the good he does to atone for his past misdeeds and he believes himself to be rotten to the core. He remains thoroughly convinced that he does not deserve forgiveness, even at his deathbed.
Yet as shown in the song One Day More, you can see how similar the characters actually are despite their differences and varying motives. The revolution ties their separate stories together marvellously, creating a sense of unity, as well as coherence to the whole plot. But amidst all the despair and broken dreams, there is, remarkably, still kindness and hope. I liked how the story continues even after the revolution failed – it reflects how life will carry on no matter what setbacks we have faced; we just need to have the courage to keep on going. Life is riddled with defeats and failures. Not every story has a happy ending, but you can decide where the story ends.
It is simply amazing how all of this could be conveyed through song. There are forty songs within the musical, and despite their differing lyrics and mood, the recurring melodies cast a haunting effect over the entire musical. Valjean’s voice was surprisingly tender and dulcet, especially as he sang “Bring Him Home” at the barricades. Some modifications were made to suit the musical though; Enjolras and Grantaire’s execution was not included, while Eponine’s story was heavily romanticized.
Interestingly, members of the audience were heard singing as they left after the end of the show. People were heard singing even in the toilets. It seems that the musical phenomenon has indeed left quite the impact. “Do you hear the people sing?” Literally, yes.
On a side note, Les Misérables had actually caused a bit of a stir during its earlier performances in Singapore due to a kiss between two male actors. In the song Beggars At The Feast, the brief peck on the lips was supposed to be comical, but some did not find it funny and lodged complaints with MDA, which subsequently lead to its removal from the show.
For those who haven’t seen the musical yet, Les Misérables will still be playing until July 24. Don’t waste the opportunity to watch it – they even have student prices if you show your student card at the Esplanade Theatre box office. Fans of musicals can also keep an eye out for Wicked, another upcoming musical at the Grand Theatre of Marina Bay Sands from 29 September to 16 October 2016.