If there’s one thing you should know about me, you should know that my favorite musical of all time is Les Miserables. Why is that? Well, aside from being just absolutely phenomenal in the first place, it’s the musical that got me into musicals. And for that reason alone, it distinguishes itself from all of the other musicals in the canon for me and will always hold a special place in my heart.
You see, musical theatre has been my passion ever since I was first introduced to Les Mis. Musical theatre is what I go to when I need some emotional catharsis, or when I need a different viewpoint to consider. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked around my room at the various musical posters I have hanging on my walls in search of the perfect song to sing or listen to. It’s my thing.
I’ll never forget being introduced to Les Mis by my voice teacher when I was around nine years old. She had given me a song, “Castle on a Cloud”, to prepare for my next lesson the following week. I went home and listened to the demo CD she provided me, and I was hooked by the melody. Though the recording was simply her playing the piano, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I have never heard music like this before”. It had this distinguishing characteristic of being both haunting, yet comforting at the same time, as if it were a mystery waiting for me to discover it.
I rehearsed the song that whole week. At my next voice lesson, I remember how much I took on the character of Cosette. It’s so crazy how vividly I remember that moment, me going so far as to sitting on the floor pretending I was scrubbing it in my favorite brown babydoll top and long sleeve white shirt (hello, 2004). From there, I would ask my mom for extra computer time to listen to the album. I would watch the 10th Anniversary Concert on PBS whenever it was on. I was hooked.
Years went on, and my love for the musical has never diminished over the years. In sixth grade, when everyone was getting new bikes and purses for their birthdays, I was getting the Les Miserables Complete Symphonic Recording performed by the international cast. In high school, I would literally walk around with my copy of Hugo’s book in my tote bag, whip it out, and tell people it was my Bible (yeah, I was that kind of obsessed, wacky kid). I’ve transitioned from loving Cosette as a young girl, to wanting to be Eponine as a teenager/young adult, to now admiring Fantine more and more every day. Greta and I literally spent an entire car ride singing along to the cast recording with no reservations whatsoever a couple of weeks ago. I’m literally listening to it on my phone as I write this post. It never gets old and it never fails to be my friend.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve transitioned from solely loving the music to treasuring more so the story of redemption the musical tells. I love how much it teaches us about the power of forgiveness and of second chances. The musical does an exemplary job at conveying this story, but the book does more so with so much added nuance. It teaches us we are not perfect; we are human. As someone who was raised Catholic and is indeed spiritual, I deeply admire the way the novel tells this story by doing so within the context of those Christian tenets. It’s a beautifully crafted story, and I wish Victor Hugo was still alive today so I could go to him and tell him how much I love his metaphoric language, imagery, and plot.
Les Miserables will always be the musical and story I go to in my lowest of lows. It’s helped in more ways than one; as I’ve mentioned, it introduced me to the musical theatre canon, to my best friend, and to a faith in which I see profound beauty and grace, despite some of my personal reservations. It will always be with me, proving the unconditional loving relationship I have with it, and which is much needed and appreciated. I am so grateful to have been lucky enough to live in a time and place where I have Les Mis to look to for guidance and to cherish, and I know it will remain a significant component of my life forever.