Lots of Les Mis in This World
I was first exposed to Les Misérables in junior high. I was performing in a community production of Gypsy because I had cool parents, and they were totally fine with their preteen being in a show about strippers. I was spending the night with a fellow thespian from the cast, and she popped in the Les Mis soundtrack. I was so mesmerized by the music that I used my own money to buy the cassette the next morning. (Yes, this whole experience occurred in the pre-CD/MP3 world, which is the reason it took me a bit longer to discover the show than it would nowadays.)
I even read the book, the unabridged version with all the digressions on argot, religious cloisters, street urchins, etc. I convinced my mother to buy it for me around the same time as my musical discovery. ("Of course I'm going to read a thousand-plus-page classic for fun, Mom!" I did read it . . . eventually . . . after I graduated from college.)
During my sophomore year, because I couldn't shut up about the show, my parents drove me to Boise to see the touring production at the Morrison Center. They didn't actually go to the production themselves—too depressing. They let me take a friend instead.
Fast-forward twenty-two years: I have now seen Les Mis in several different capacities. Touring productions, youth productions (one of which I even conducted), movie versions, and, now that it's finally been licensed, lots of community productions. Dan and I even saw it at the West End's Queen's Theatre a few years ago while it was still staged with the revolve.
In recent productions, Cosette has been turned into a blonde, despite the description of her chestnut brown locks in the book. Maybe it creates less confusion about her being Fantine's daughter who is traditionally blonde in the book and musical. But it just means one less light lyric soprano role for brunettes.
As a result of marrying a Broadway enthusiast, my husband, Dan, has also become a kind of Les Mis aficionado, whether willing or not. His reaction (after seeing it in London) has gone from, "It's a good story. I'd see it again," to "This music is starting to sound really familiar," to "They're doing another production of Les Mis?"
I never thought it could happen. Dan and I are both a little Les Mis'ed out.
Because I have sat through many, many productions of the show in recent years (none of which have been bad, by any means, just ubiquitous), it has given me time (lots of time, it's a long show) to think about how my perception of the musical has evolved since that first fateful encounter at a junior high sleepover.
The following is what I call, "Becky's Stages of Les Misérables."
The Junior High Years
I was most drawn to the story of Eponine's unrequited love of Marius. I mean, Eponine has the superior music and the more interesting personality for a reason. And what junior high kid can't relate to the injustice of a Marius choosing the popular rich girl?
The Late High School Years:
At this stage in my life, I had started dabbling in feminism, so naturally, I was intrigued by Fantine's fate as a sex worker and the lack of choices women of independent means were (and, sometimes, still are) given in society.
The College Years:
Still a feminist and empathetic to Fantine's story, I was also an education major and was particularly troubled by the death of the child urchin Gavroche.
The Adult Years (at least into my thirties):
It's all about revolution for me . . . and Enjolras. Hell, yeah! Let's fight some social injustice!