BWW Special: 25 Years Later - Sharing LES MISERABLES with the Masses
It is no secret to those who know me that Les Miserables was the reason I fell in love with musical theatre. Twenty-five years ago I sat in the third row of Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre as the Original Canadian Company kicked off their very successful run of the worldwide hit musical. Only five years old at the time, I was arguably far too young for most of the subject matter and yet instantly captivated. The enduring tale of hope, faith and love resonated with me even at that tender age - and from that day forward I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to spreading the joy that comes from experiencing the magic of live theatre.
Twenty-five years later we are on the eve of the release of a feature film version of my beloved show, starring some of Hollywood's biggest names and directed by Tom Hooper - one of the hottest directors of the last few years. It’s a strange feeling watching the media attention the film has been given, because I feel as though I'm in on a secret that is about to exposed to the entire world.
While I'm eager to see this glorious story shared with the masses, I'm also selfishly finding myself a little sad to know that my beloved treasure will now be commercialized on an entirely new level.
Victor Hugo's tale of Jean Valjean's struggle to find redemption in an unforgiving society is as relevant now as it was when it was originally written. It is a story first and foremost about right and wrong, good and evil, and about how easily the lines between the two can be blurred. In our busy society I feel like classic novels such as Hugo's are less appreciated than they once were, and I know that theatre is frequented far less than it used to be. For these reasons, I'm thrilled that this story will be given the big screen treatment so a whole new generation can enjoy it.
But like any good secret or treasured childhood memory, it can be hard to reconcile myself to the fact that I will no longer share this music with only the die-hard "Mizzies" and theatre geeks around the world. If the movie is as successful as many pundits are predicting it to be, the majority of the developed world will now 'get' my quirky Miz references, will understand why I'm steadfastly team 'Epo' and will know that 24601 is not a random sequence of numbers. Gone will be the days I could dress as a boy on the barricades for Halloween and easily identify my kindred spirits based on the few folk who actually knew who I was. I fear we will quickly start hearing the inevitable 'Hugh Jackman is the best Valjean ever!!' and while the accolades may be well earned, I'm saddened for all the talented men who played the role prior who will be relegated to The Shadows like the ghosts in Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.
Luckily, regardless of how conflicted I may be about sharing my secret with the world, I know that the Les Miserables movie will be a success and I'm confident its wide release is good for society as a whole. Our world is a cruel place, often devoid of any real hope or genuine kindness. The story of Jean Valjean teaches everyone the importance of love above everything else, the value of forgiveness and serves as a reminder of the enduring kindness of the human spirit. I think now more than ever we need that kind of reminder. We need to see good triumph over evil, and we need to know that the hope we have buried deep down in our hearts is not lost, and the dreams that we dream do not need to be forgotten. One person can make a difference, a simple act of kindness can change someone's fate, and abiding by the golden rule can change the world.
As the famous line in the show proclaims - 'to love another person is to see the face of God'. I first heard that utterance when I was five years old, and have held it close to my heart for a quarter of a century. The message of Les Miserables has never let me down, despite going through many tragic events and crippling losses in my own life. I was able to realize my dream of spreading the joy of live theatre to everyone I meet, and now I hope to realize one even more ambitious dream I dared to dream. I dream that this Christmas season, the cynical and jaded amongst us go see Les Miserables and have their hearts touched by the powerful story. I dream that they will be able to feel even a fraction of the joy, hope and magic I felt when I was five years old. Who knows, with commercial success perhaps Les Miserables can change the world. I know it changed me.
For release dates and more information on the film, please visit the official website at http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/