French novelist Victor Hugo was on vacation when his 1862 novel “Les Miserables” was published. Curious to know the public's reaction to his tale about the French revolution of 1832, he sent a telegram to his publisher asking “?” Taking his cue from Hugo, the publisher replied with a simple “!” to indicate the book's success.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of “Les Miserables.” And while its lofty position as a 19th century literary classic has never been in question, its popularity as a musical theater piece has far overshadowed Hugo's original narrative.
The songwriting team of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil created a musical stage version of Hugo's sprawling novel in 1980. Their take on the intertwining stories of convicted criminal Jean Valjean and ruthless police detective Javert captivated French audiences.
The musical's Parisian success prompted British producer Cameron Mackintosh to approach Boublil and Schonberg about creating an English-language version of “Les Miserables.”
Newly outfitted with Herbert Kretzmer's English lyrics, “Les Miserables” opened in London in 1985.
A Broadway production followed in 1987 and earned eight Tony Awards. Since then, “Les Miserables” has been produced in 43 countries and has been translated into 21 languages, making it one of the most popular musicals of all time.
“Les Miserables” was the last production to play the Civic Center Music Hall before its three-year renovation began in 1998. A new touring production based on the 25th anniversary version that played England in 2010 makes its way to the Civic Center for eight performances this week.
The show is sponsored locally by Celebrity Attractions.
As Mackintosh was preparing to mount the 25th anniversary production, he wanted to tweak the show to give it a fresh look. Gone is the familiar turntable used to create seamless changes of scene. And Chris Jahnke's new orchestrations have given the musical a slightly different sound.
“In a sense, this show has been changing from the moment it was born,” Boublil said in a printed release. “While the original album contained pretty much everything you hear now, not every song was in the same place. And the truth is, you never just write a musical. You always rewrite it.”
Actor Peter Lockyer says he's come full circle with “Les Miserables.” He was a replacement Marius during a portion of the Broadway production's 16-year run. In this Cameron Mackintosh/Networks tour, Lockyer has graduated to the role of Jean Valjean. No wonder he considers the musical a part of his own life story.
“I think ‘Les Mis' is one of the best musicals ever written and I feel so honored to come back to it,” Lockyer said recently. “I loved the original production which was sort of majestic and had that romantic Jane Austen kind of pace.