If I was to say what had happened to Les Misérables is the dream I dreamed, it would not be true – Les Mis has been a success beyond my wildest dreams.
The show in 1985 that few people had booked in advance to see was coolly, if not hostilely, reviewed by the early critics. It has since become the longest-running musical in the world and one of the most financially successful shows ever in London’s West End. It undoubtedly continues to be one of the most performed musicals, by professionals and amateurs, in the history of world theatre and has been seen by over 130 million people.
Year after year we have found exciting new casts who want to be in Les Mis. Many of the artists who now thrill us weren’t even born when I first put on the show. Now, almost 37 years later, new audiences continue to discover the extraordinary impact of this emotional musical tour de force while existing Les Mis fans comeback again and again for more.
As the show approached its 25th year milestone, I was puzzling for some time on how best to celebrate his remarkable achievement. The best birthday present I felt I could give to Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s masterful and timeless creation, with its inspiring English words by Herbert Kretzmer, was a completely new staging as if the show was a brand-new work.
In 2009, the new production of Les Mis, thrillingly staged by Laurence Connor and James Powell, opened at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Just as Victor Hugo’s novel was the inspiration for Alain and Claude-Michel’s musical, Hugo’s extraordinary and revolutionary paintings also inspired designers Matt Kinley and Paule Constable to bring the show to a vivid and more colourful life. The result has been an overwhelming success with audiences and critics alike; even the hardiest of fans embraced the new production as “the best yet!” I have been thrilled that the new Les Mis continues to open with new companies all over the world, including back on Broadway in 2014, and that people respond to it like a brand-new show, thanks to the extraordinary work of the creative team.
Over the years, the score and libretto have been refined by all of us and they are now honed to an hour shorter than when we opened at London’s Barbican Theatre in 1985. The strength of the text is one of the reasons both students and professionals are able to stage Les Mis with equal success. It is the power and spread of wonderful characters that make Les Mis the show talented young performers still want to be part of as they embark on their careers. The list of alumni around the world who started their theatrical careers in Les Mis is indeed extraordinary, which is why whenever we do the show in concert or have a major celebration everyone wants to return as part of the Les Mis family to storm the barricade once more. In an extraordinary way, life has imitated art, with several of the show’s key songs being taken up as anthems of revolution outside of the theatre by people fighting for their freedom and values.
Les Misérables remains timelessly relevant thanks to Victor Hugo’s genius. He wrote about injustice, morality, poverty and suffering through creating characters and emotions that have transcended language in almost every country around the world since it was first published in 1862. His characters and their behaviour never date. They are re-born in each generation and his story remains an exhilarating testament to the enduring power and resilience of the human spirit.
“To love another person is to see the face of God” is one of the most beautiful thoughts any play could end on and it does somehow sum up the emotional impact that you feel when you see Les Misérables.
Despite the ravages of the pandemic, which for the first time in history closed down the theatre for almost 18 months, Les Mis was the only large-scale musical in the world that managed to stay open for some of those months with a fully staged concert version.
As the world hopefully returns to normality during 2022/23, the appreciation of live theatre and the importance of humanity interacting with each other has never been more acute, and no musical demonstrates this need more than Les Misérables.
We will hear the people sing on and off the stage for many decades to come.
May 10 – 21, 2023