I first watched Les Miserables nearly 25 years ago. I was young (and unafraid, and dreams were made and used and wasted). Though I had never heard of the show before I went, I left the theater a changed person.
The message of the musical moved me to a degree that when I walked out of the theater that afternoon, I began to live my life differently. I did my best to take Victor Hugo’s words to heart — to love another person is to see the face of God.
I saw the musical on my first trip to Los Angeles. I was with a friend who had grown up there. She knew her way around — and coming from a small town in Mississippi, I certainly didn’t.
We had participated in a conference that morning that finished earlier than we expected. She suggested we go see a show. We made a call, bought the last two tickets, walked outside, got in a taxi (my first ever), rode about 10 minutes and walked in the theater to take our top-row-of-the-balcony seats just as the curtain was rising. The ease of getting there astounded me. I had heard about the horrors of Los Angeles traffic for most of my life — and yet we ended up in the theater seats like magic.
For the next two hours, my mind was properly blown. Until then, I hadn’t known such man-made beauty existed. We left the theater, went straight to a music store and I bought the musical’s CD, which was a monumental financial decision for me at the time.
There was only one problem.
CDs were just hitting the scene — and I didn’t have a CD player yet. The next day after I flew home, I went to a store, spent the rest of what money I had and bought a portable CD player. That double CD set of the London original cast recording of Les Miserables was the only music I had for the next six months.
I didn’t mind it.
The magnanimous gift that inspired Jean Valjean’s decision to live a different life, followed by his forgiveness of self and his dedication to serve and love others changed me profoundly. The story made me want to be a better person. Every time I sang the songs (and I sang loud and proud — people who lived in the apartments beside or above me could attest to my volume and commitment to the lyrics), my conviction to be a better person was brought round again.
Through the years, I’ve seen the live musical five times. I’ve watched the PBS broadcast of the 25th anniversary concert more times than I care to admit — and yet, I am moved every time by the beauty of the voices and music. I have shared my love of the story with my husband and children.
When I heard they were making a movie, I was hopeful, but cautious. The more I read and saw of the movie, the more hopeful and cautious I became. Seeing it the day after Christmas was almost like an out-of-body experience. Hugh Jackman won my heart. Anne Hathaway was inspiring, and Eddie Redmayne was a wonder and joy to watch.
Yes, there are things some will and have criticized. There are even things I would do differently about the film. For example, as fine of an actor as Russell Crowe is, I don’t believe his musical ability did the character of Javert justice, but I can’t be impartial and am happy the story is being shared with so many others. I believe the movie conveys the beauty of its songs and story well.
Go see it. The cast, characters, compositions and lyrics may not change your life as profoundly as the musical did mine long ago, but it’s a good message to consider for the new year.
Acknowledge the sins of our past. Forgive each other. Forgive yourself. Love others. Serve others.