Well, it is true that in life unexpected things do happen. They can either happen for the worse or for the better. This post will focus on how it can change someone for the better. I will focus specifically on one musical theatre character: Jean Valjean. THERE WILL BE MAJOR SPOILERS.
As a bit of background, Jean Valjean is the protagonist of Les Mis. He is an ex-convict, who left prison as a harsh, angry, and bitter man. He believed love can never change a man. When he left prison, society was mistreating him and not giving him a chance- as in not giving him a job or a place to sleep or even food to eat. All of that made him more angry with society. Will anyone ever change his views on society or make him see things in a new light?
Enter the bishop: the bishop welcomes everyone in his home. He has an unconditional love for people. He welcomed Valjean into his house and did give him a place to stay and food to eat. Despite that, Valjean still stole from the bishop. Not EXPECTING the bishop to say he stole from him, Valjean was surprised when he said, he actually gave all of that as a gift including the two candlesticks that was forgotten. Valjean was shown love, compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness- all of Valjean’s actions after this particular scene were driven by the example the bishop gave to Valjean. It was for the better- it allowed Valjean to become a better person in more ways than one.
Then there’s Cosette. Cosette is Fantine’s daughter, and out of compassion for Fantine, Valjean promised to raise her. This promise was made during Fantine’s death. Valjean defiantly was not expecting to become a father. Ever since leaving prison, he did not know the feeling of love. He knew he had to help Fantine, and the only way he could was to become Cosette’s adopted father. Fantine had suffered so much- Cosette deserved so much more than the suffering that her mother faced. Valjean eventually realized just how broken Young Cosette is- she after all had been abused by The Thenardiers and treated as a servant. It was through Young Cosette where he felt love for the first time- it was through her where he truly was able to become a better person. Even as a teenager, Cosette’s life drastically improved. Valjean literally went to the barricade to protect the one that his adopted daughter loves (Marius): that is just how much he loves his adopted daughter.
On November 3rd, I saw Les Mis at Ovens Auditorium during the US Tour. As so many know, I am a massive fan of the musical. This cast will consist of some of the actors I saw back when the tour first was launched- only five of the nine actors from last time were part of this particular cast.
Jean Valjean: Andrew Maughan (Understudy)
Javert: Josh Davis
Fantine: Mary Kate Moore
Cosette: Jillian Butler
Marius: Joshua Grosso
Eponine: Paige Smallwood
Enjolras: Matt Shingledecker
Monsieur Thenardier: Jimmy Smagula
Madame Thenardier: Allison Guinn
Young Cosette: Mackenzie Mercer
Gavroche: Robbie Crandall
The best seats, at Ovens, in my opinion are in the Mezzanine. I got to sit in the Mezzanine. I loved those seats- I got to see everything and hear everything. They were also were part of the center.
As this is the new production, I still love it. I love how it adds a little bit more color by using the paintings as the backdrop- those also add a bit more Victor Hugo into the set. I loved how “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was staged- that was one of my favorite parts of the new production. The new staging really shows the vastness of Paris. My only disappointment though was that when time changed- there was no year on the backdrop- that does help explain things.
Jean Valjean- I was hoping to get Nick Cartell (a standout from 2017), but ended up with an understudy. Because he was an understudy, I knew I had to respect and appreciate his Valjean. In most cases, that wouldn’t be the case. Usually, when I see Les Mis, my tears start at “I Dreamed a Dream”- but when I saw it, guess what happened- I started crying during “What have I Done”. I started to become an emotional wreck sooner than I expected. So, Valjean’s transformation started to show- I was wondering how would be tackle “Bring Him Home”, the song many Valjean’s look forward to singing the most. I loved his version of “Bring Him Home”. So, Andrew defiantly was able to bring out Valjean’s transformation.
Javert- so, Josh Davis was an actor that stayed with the tour in 2017 and was part of my cast yesterday. I was wondering if he would be better yesterday. I always struggle with Javert. It is hard to find common ground or feel sympathy. I think Josh was a little bit stronger this time around. He defiantly mastered Javert’s voice like last time, and the reason why I said he improved was because I think he had a much stronger “Stars”.
Fantine- I wanted Mary Kate Moore as Fantine. Back in 2017, she was part of my ensemble, and then in 2018, she become Fantine after being the understudy. It is hard to watch any Fantine on stage. Just like I expected- “I Dreamed a Dream” reduced me to tears. Her Fantine was amazing.
Cosette- Jillian Butler was part of my 2017 cast. She has this beautiful soprano voice. She somehow can connect to a charming and awkward Marius. It actually makes those two a more adorable and better couple. I strongly love Jillian and Joshua together as Marius and Cosette.
Marius- I am glad that I saw Joshua Grosso again. In 2017, he was one of my standouts. So seeing him again was such a delight. He was still a charming and awkward Marius- one example was during “A Heart Full of Love”- he literally treated falling in love with Cosette like he had no idea what to do. Once again, during “A Little Fall of Rain”, he focused more on comforting Eponine less than the heartbreak he was feeling. People might think he should show the heartbreak more, but do not forget in that scene, Marius is also supposed to show comfort and compassion to Eponine as well. At the end, the reaction was a bit different- that was because he was interacting with a different Eponine. I did not even know if he was going to end the song- that did tell me was heartbroken over her death. So, I saw all of the same things I loved about Joshua’s Marius in the first place.
Paige Smallwood- While Jillian and Joshua were still Marius and Cosette, I had a different Eponine. I had no idea how just one actress could impact the love triangle. She could affect it in a minor or major way only because I already saw the other two back in 2017. “On My Own”- that song actually made me cry this time around. “A Little Fall of Rain”- so believable and I could easily tell she was getting weaker and dying and that she was dying after getting shot.
Matt Shingledecker- He was a standout from 2017. It was nice getting to see him this time around. So I had two of my three standouts from last time. He still felt like a passionate leader. It can be hard to describe why I love Matt so much.
Allison Guinn/ Jimmy Smagula- I had seen Allison Guinn both in 2017 and this time around. I had no idea what she would be like with Jimmy. I knew I loved her as Madame Thenardier so it was interesting seeing her with a new Thenardier. Like many Thenardiers, they were hilarious. So Allison does work well with Jimmy.
Young Cosette/Gavroche- The children of Les Mis were Mackenzie Mercer and Robbie Crandall. Playing Young Cosette and Gavroche, they had a challenge to do. To be on stage and to be a child in a show like Les Mis is not easy. They still were incredible in their roles.
I am talking about another principal character in Les Mis.
In Les Mis, Jean Valjean is the protagonist. In my opinion, he is one of the best main characters in musical theatre. He has one of the best character arcs.
Jean Valjean starts out as a broken man. He ended up in prison by stealing a loaf of bread for his sister and nephews. His sentence ended up being five years, but fourteen more for trying to escape. So, just for stealing a loaf for bread, he was in prison for nineteen years. Prison hardened Valjean into this angry and bitter man. He was quite mad at society when he was released- he ended up more angry at them when he realized society was not treating him fairly just because he was an ex-convict.
Well, one of my favorite scenes in Les Mis is the bishop scene. The bishop may be a minor character, but is a truly significant one. The bishop welcomed Valjean into his home, gave him something to eat, and somewhere to sleep. Despite this kind gesture, Valjean still stole silver from the bishop. After being caught and being returned to the bishop, the bishop actually ended up telling the policemen that he gave the silver as a gift (he added the candlesticks to all the silver he stole). The bishop was able to teach Valjean mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love. The bishop forgave Valjean for stealing all of his silver.
During “What have I Done”- you begin to understand who Valjean once was and shows what the bishop taught him. He no longer wanted to be the bitter, harsh, and angry man he once was. When the time advances the first time, you realize that Valjean has defiantly changed. In 1823, he has begun to show compassion towards others. He is the owner of a factory and the mayor of the town- so he defiantly has changed.
Well, after he saw that Fantine, once of his former workers, has been sexually harassed and is about to be sent to jail. He ended up preventing Javert from allowing that to happen- Valjean realized that Fantine is now living on the streets and is now seriously ill. He has shown Fantine a lot of compassion in this particular moment: he wants to help her especially because she has a child.
“Who Am I?” is one of those scenes that has Valjean go through a major dilemma. Either he has to give up being a mayor and owner of the factor or turn himself in to prevent an innocent man from going to jail. A man was wrongly accused of being “Valjean”. In the end, Valjean actually turned himself in even though he still has a promise he has to fulfill.
A lot of compassion seen from Valjean is during “Come to Me”, which is the first death in Les Mis. It is Fantine’s death scene, which is a duet found Fantine and Valjean. Fantine is still worried about her daughter. In this number, Valjean agrees and promises to raise Cosette as his own. In the most unexpected of ways, Valjean has to become an adopted father. Valjean stays with Fantine during this entire moment. Little does Valjean know how much of an impact Cosette would have on his life.
I find it interesting that BOTH Valjean and Cosette were still broken when they found each other. After all, Cosette was currently a slave in the inn of the Thenardiers and Valjean was still broken due to this life in prison. They ended up healing each other. Ever since adopting Cosette, she was the first person fell in love with. Cosette got a better life after living the Thenardiers- Valjean was a good father to her even though it would be difficult. Valjean had to raise Cosette while being an ex-convict. While he would overprotect and shelter Cosette, it would be because he is in danger of being caught by Javert.
In act II, there is a reason why he went to the barricade. He wanted what was best for her. After finding out that she was in love with Marius, he did not want him to die. During “Bring Him Home”, it was sung as a prayer to make sure Marius comes out alive. That song truly does show Valjean’s love for God. After Marius does fall unconscious during the Final Battle, Valjean carries him through the sewers to make sure he makes it out alive. This was all done out of love for Cosette.
At the end of Valjean, he does die: but like most characters is not alone. He does die with both Cosette and Marius (his now son-in-law).
Another principal character in Les Mis is Fantine.
The hardest scenes to watch in Les Mis belong to Fantine. She may be one of the principal characters, but has the shortest amount of stage time. What I love the most about her is her unconditional love towards her daughter. Her ultimate demise is not even her fault- it is actually both society’s and The Thenardiers’ fault.
When she fell in love with Felix and got pregnant with Cosette, he ended up abandoning the two of them. So Fantine was left to fend for herself. In France at the time, it was dangerous to know you had a child out wedlock. She had such a strong love her Cosette, but had no idea what to do now that she was abandoned. She soon had to go to extreme measures and leave Cosette in the hands of the Thenardiers (not knowing how poorly they would treat Cosette). She did find a job at Valjean’s factory; however the Thenardiers kept on demanding more and more money (but those letters were hoaxes telling lies). It was soon discovered she had an illegitimate child- that was what made her get fired from her job. She was even more desperate now- how was she to care for Cosette now? Her life got even worse and now all of her dreams were broken. She hoped that her daughter would have a better life than she currently was having.
Now, she had to take things to even more dangerous measures. “Lovely Ladies” is the hardest scene to watch in Les Mis. She had to end up selling her locket, hair, and even turn to prostitution just for the sake of Cosette. This has always been the hardest scene to watch- once you understand why it had to be there, it makes it a bit easier to watch despite being really hard to watch.
Due to living on the streets, she become severely ill. When she attacked a man in self-defense, Javert did not care that she had a child and just saw her as prostitute. He did not give her any mercy or compassion. Only one person was able to help her- Valjean was there at the time- after realizing that she had a child and was fired from his factory, he ended up preventing her from going in jail and took her to a hospital. Her may not have been able to save her life, but promised to raise Cosette as his own. He stayed with Fantine until she died.
One of my unpopular opinions in musicals is my love for Marius and Cosette. Not only do I love them as characters, but I also love them as a couple. They help bring hope to Les Mis. Cosette is a symbol of light and hope- which you started to see when she is a child.
As a child, Cosette was horribly abused by the Thenardiers, who are Eponine and Gavroche’s parents. She was treated a servant. However, she still has a strong spirit and has high hopes she will be rescued. She gets through the day by imagining fantasies that she creates. After promising to raise Cosette after her mother (Fantine) dies, Jean Valjean becomes her adopted father. She now has a loving father, but it is not easy raising Cosette because Valjean is an ex-convict. Both Young Cosette and Valjean help heal each other because they both were broken due to the lives they currently had.
Cosette- as a teenager
This is where the dislike comes from. A lot of fans seem to forget about Young Cosette. The lives of Eponine and Cosette have switched places (Cosette’ life went from bad to good and Eponine’s went from good to worse). Yes, Cosette may not have been developed as many of the other characters, but she still is this symbol of hope and does connect several of the other characters. She is a curious and charitable at this time and demands to know the past of her adopted father and her mother. She has fallen in love with Marius and her love for him helps keep hope alive: there is a reason why he had to survive the rebellion.
Well, Marius gets a lot of hate as well. He has been accused of being a jerk and wish he had ended up with Eponine instead of Cosette and accused of not liking how he treated Eponine- I disagree on all of that. He actually is more complex than he appears. He is this sweet, kind, romantic, and awkward revolutionary. Look- Marius is all Eponine has in life. He is the only person who treated her with kindness: that is why she fell in love with him.
Let’s look at two scenes in act II- at the beginning, I believe he sent Eponine away with the letter to Cosette to try to protect her from the uprising. He did not want her to get hurt or worse killed. That is why he asked why she came back when he saw that she did come back to the barricade. At first, he did not notice she was shot, but when she collapsed, he was worried. When he found her gunshot wound and saw how severe it was, he was devastated. Despite that, he still stayed with her and comforted her till she died- that is compassion and not him being a jerk.
Marius is my favorite survivor in Les Mis. If Marius didn’t survive, Cosette would not have been able to represent the hope she was supposed to. People say she never showed her love to Marius as well as Eponine did. She most certainly did. When he was recovering from the uprising, Cosette took care of him- that is her showing her love towards him. People always say they got their happily ever after- think again. Cosette had a horrible childhood and lost her adopted father. Marius lost all of his friends at the barricade leaving him with survivor’s guilt. All they have left in the end is each other.
There have been people who still can not seem to understand why I still love Les Mis. I usually am asked “why would you still want to see “Les Mis” if you will still feel that way?”. I guess those people do not understand how the connection between emotional connection and negative emotions. I will explain below why I am still a Les Mis fanatic.
I still have a strong emotional connection to the characters, songs, and plot- it is important to form that between all three. If you fall in love with a tragic musical, you need the emotional connection to be strong. In Les Mis, I am NOT just feeling the negative emotions. I am also feeling love, hope, passion, joy, and excitement- those are part of Les Mis as well. When I first saw the movie- I fell in the trap of thinking it was TOO DEPRESSING. I eventually saw the underlying spirituality, which is part of why I am such a strong emotional connection to Les Mis: there are themes of hope, love, forgiveness, compassion, sacrifice, humanity, and redemption in there.
As for the characters, I love the strong connection I have to them. I love most of the principal characters: compassionate and protective Jean Valjean, Fantine, romantic Cosette, romantic and revolutionary Marius; brave and strong Eponine; and passionate and leader, and revolutionary Enjolras. The three other principal characters are obsessive and policeman Javert and the funny, unloving, and abusive Thenardiers. I love the other Friends of the ABC as well. They are so interconnected that they all feel like they belong in Les Mis. I have created such a beautiful bond to these characters. I am surprised that I still can find something new about them each time I see the musical. They will always stay alive in me- even the ones that do die. I love watching their stories unfold on stage even though some are harder to watch than others.
As far as songs: this musical has one of the strongest song lists. Usually in a musical, I can choose my favorite song. However in Les Mis, I cannot seem to choose. From the empowering and epic”One Day More” to the passionate and hopeful “Do you Hear the People Sing” to the bittersweet and heartbreaking “A Little Fall of Rain” to the devastating “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” to the beautiful and soulful “Bring Him Home” to the intimate and heartbreaking “Drink with Me” to the heartbreaking and beautiful “On My Own” to the heartbreaking “I Dreamed a Dream”- there are others that could easily be my favorite. The songs perfectly match the characters and plot. I am still an emotional wreck with these songs- I am glad there is “Master of the House”- it gives you a break- it is comic relief.
As for the plot- it is ultimately a tale about humanity. It is about Jean Valjean’s journey to redemption after being released from prison for stealing a loaf of bread to provide for his family. On top of that, there is a love triangle and an uprising. It is a very complex plot- it can be hard to follow along during the first viewing. It is truly a human story. All of the characters experience some kind of hardship- it truly does show this is what happens in life at times. Everything in the plot is meant to happen: as in if you get rid of one tiny thing, the entire story starts falling apart. It may be a tragedy, but it gives you a message of hope. When a musical is meaningful, it is impossible to stop loving it.