Informally known as Les Mis or Les Miz, Les Misérables is a Broadway favorite. This French epic is set in 19th century France and follows the story of a peasant seeking atonement after being arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s child. The story is heartbreaking, yet very popular, making it the ninth most profitable Broadway show ever. Based on the modern classic novel written by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables features one of the most memorable scores of all time.
Les Misérables is a musical that made a spectacle on Broadway and in West End. Even with a minimal set, it’s equally effective as those musicals with elaborate stage design. The Broadway production of Les Misérables has won eight Tony Awards, including the Best Musical. Its English-language adaptation by Cameron Mackintosh has been running in West End and London since October 1985, making it the longest-running musical in the UK.
Les Misérables was originally created as a French-language concept album. In 1980, the first musical stage adaptation of Les Misérables was presented in Paris. The musical was a success, but production closed after three months because the booking contract in Palais des Sports expired.
In 1983, director Peter Farago gave a copy of the French concept album to producer Cameron Mackintosh, six months after Mackintosh opened Cats on Broadway. Farago was impressed by Mackintosh’s work and asked him to produce an English version of the Les Misérables show. Mackintosh assembled a production team with the Royal Shakespeare Company to adapt the French musical for a British audience. The English version of the show opened in London in October 1985 at the Barbican Centre.
Original West End production
The West End version of Les Misérables has lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and additional material by James Fenton. It wasn’t a direct translation of the French work, and it added a prologue telling Jean Valjean’s background story.
The first English-language production was produced by Mackintosh and directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. The set was designed by John Napier, lighting by David Hersey, and costumes by AndreaneNeofitou. Musical direction was by Martin Koch, and musical staging was by Kate Flatt.
The original London cast included:
- Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean
- Roger Allam as Javert
- Alun Armstrong as Thénardier
- Susan Jane Tanner as Madame Thénardier
- Patti LuPone as Fantine
- Rebecca Caine as Cosette
- Michael Ball as Marius
- David Birt as Enjolras
- Frances Ruffelle as Éponine
- Ian Tucker / Oliver Spencer / Liza Hayden as Gavroche
The show transferred from the Barbican Centre to the Palace Theatre London after two months and moved again to the Queens Theatre (now called Sondheim Theatre) in 2004. The show closed in July 2019 for theatre renovations, and the production was staged temporarily at the Gielgud Theatre before it returned to the newly renamed Sondheim Theatre.
Les Misérables was forced to close temporarily since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was announced that reopening is in 2021.
The musical opened as a pre-Broadway tryout in Washington, D.C., in December 1986. Then, it premiered on Broadway in March 1987 at the Broadway Theatre. The transfer from London to the United States prompted additional modifications, as some details were re-written, and some lighting and scene effects were added.
The original Broadway cast included:
- Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean
- Terrence Mann as Javert
- Leo Burmester as Thénardier
- Jennifer Butt as Madame Thénardier
- Randy Graff as Fantine
- Judy Kuhn as Cosette
- David Bryant as Marius
- Michael Maguire as Enjolras
- Frances Rufelle as Éponine
- Braden Danner / RD Robb as Gavroche
The Broadway musical ran at Broadway Theater until October 1990, when it moved to the Imperial Theatre. It was scheduled to close in March 2003, but public interest surged, so the closing was postponed. After sixteen years of running, it closed in May 2003, becoming the second-longest running Broadway musical. In 2006, this ranking was surpassed by The Phantom of the Opera.
Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant who spends a lifetime seeking redemption. Set in early 19th-century France and the aftermath of the French revolution, this story reveals the power of compassion and the evil of indifference to human suffering.
Jean Valjean is released from 19 years in jail due to unjust imprisonment due to stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. He gets frustrated and embittered because he is shunned wherever he goes after being an ex-convict, so he steals from the bishop who offered him food and shelter. After receiving an act of mercy from the bishop instead of turning him to the police again, he decides to start a new life, assuming a new identity. However, a police inspector named Javert relentlessly tracks him down, refusing to believe that Valjean can change his ways.
During the Paris student uprising of 1832, where students attempt to overthrow the government, Javert realizes that he must confront his ideals after Valjean spares his life and saves the life of student revolutionary who captured the heart of Valjean’s adopted daughter. Javert’s view of the world shattered and commits suicide, and Valjean finally achieves the peace he was seeking for so long.
- Overture: Instrument (Orchestra)
- Prologue: Work Song – Chain Gang, Javert, and Valjean
- Prologue: On Parole – Valjean, Farmer, Labourer, Innkeeper’s Wife, and Innkeeper
- Prologue: Valjean Arrested, Valjean Forgiven – Constables and Bishop
- Prologue: What Have I Done? – Valjean
- At the End of the Day – Fantine, The Poor, Foreman, Workers, Factory Girls, and Valjean
- I Dreamed a Dream – Fantine
- Lovely Ladies – Fantine, Sailors, Whores, Old Woman, Crone, and Pimp
- Fantine’s Arrest – Fantine, Bamatabois, Javert, and Valjean
- The Runaway Cart – Onlookers, Valjean, and Javert
- Who Am I? – Valjean
- Fantine’s Death – Fantine and Valjean
- The Confrontation – Javert and Valjean
- Castle on a Cloud – Young Cosette and Madame Thenardier
- *Master of the House – Thenardier, Madame Thenardier and Chorus
- The Well Scene – Valjean and Young Cosette
- The Bargain / The Thénardier Waltz of Treachery – Thenardier, Valjean, Madame Thenardier, and Young Cosette
- Stars – Javert
- Look Down – Beggars, Gavroche, Old Woman, Prostitute, Pimp, Enjolras, and Marius
- The Robbery / Javert’s Intervention – Thenardier, Madame Thenardier, Éponine, Marius, Valjean, and Javert
- Éponine’s Errand – Marius and Éponine
- The ABC Café / Red and Black – Students, Enjolras, Marius, Grantaire, and Gavroche
- Do You Hear the People Sing? – Enjolras, Grantaire, Students, and Beggars
- In My Life – Cosette, Valjean, Marius, and Éponine
- A Heart Full of Love – Marius, Cosette, and Éponine
- The Attack on Rue Plumet – Thenardier, Thieves, Éponine, Marius, Valjean, and Cosette
- One Day More – Valjean, Marius, Cosette, Éponine, Enjolras, Javert, Thenardier, Madame Thenardier, and Company
- At the Barricade (Upon These Stones) – Enjolras, Javert, Marius, Éponine, and Valjean
- On My Own – Éponine
- Building the Barricade (Upon These Stones) – Enjolras, Students, and Army Officer
- Javert’s Arrival – Javert and Enjolras
- Little People – Gavroche, Students, Enjolras, and Javert
- A Little Fall of Rain – Éponine and Marius
- Night of Anguish – Enjolras, Valjean, and Students
- The First Attack – Enjolras, Grantaire, Students, Valjean, and Javert
- Drink with Me – Grantaire, Students, Women, and Marius
- Bring Him Home – Valjean
- Dawn of Anguish – Enjolras and Students
- The Second Attack (Death of Gavroche) – Enjolras, Marius, Valjean, Grantaire, Gavroche, and Students
- The Final Battle – Army Officer, Grantaire, Enjolras, and Students
- The Sewers – Instrumental (Orchestra)
- Dog Eats Dog (The Sewers) – Thenardier
- Javert’s Suicide – Valjean and Javert
- Turning – Women of Paris
- Empty Chairs at Empty Tables – Marius
- Every Day / A Heart Full of Love (Reprise) – Cosette, Marius, and Valjean
- Valjean’s Confession – Valjean and Marius
- Wedding Chorale – Guests, Thenardier, Marius, and Madame Thenardier
- Beggars at the Feast – Thenardier and Madame Thenardier
- Epilogue: Valjean’s Death – Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Éponine
- Finale: Do You Hear the People Sing (Reprise) – Full Company
Original West End production
- Best Actress in a Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (1985) – Patti LuPone
- Audience Award for Most Popular Show, Laurence Olivier Award (2012)
- Audience Award for Most Popular Show, Laurence Olivier Award (2014)
Original Broadway production
- Best Musical, Tony Award (1987)
- Best Book of a Musical, Tony Award (1987) – Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
- Best Original Score, Tony Award (1987) – Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer& Alain Boublil
- Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (1987) – Michael Maguire
- Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1987) – Frances Ruffelle
- Best Direction of a Musical, Tony Award (1987) – Trevor Nunn and John Caird
- Best Scenic Design, Tony Award (1987) – John Napier
- Best Lighting Design, Tony Award (1987) – David Hersey
- Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1987) – Michael Maguire
- Outstanding Orchestrations, Drama Desk Award (1987) – John Cameron
- Outstanding Music, Drama Desk Award (1987) – Claude-Michel Schönberg
- Outstanding Set Design, Drama Desk Award (1987) – John Napier