Les Misérables (theatre)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Do you hear the people sing? / Singing a song of angry men.
It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart / Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start / When tomorrow comes!
Enjolras, Les Misérables, the musical version (1985)

The famous musical adaptation of the novel by Victor Hugo. An ever popular choice for schools and drama companies of all levels, this epic show celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010. Originally a French musical, composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Jean-Marc Natel, it compressed the plot of the book even more tightly than the book itself did. Then Cameron Mackintosh got his hands on the rights, and Herbert Kretzmer took a hand with adapting the music.

The result was, quite simply, the best-known, best-loved, arguably best musical ever produced. The show opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Barbican Theatre in 1985, and has been running without interruption ever since. It opened on Broadway two years later, where it won eight Tony Awards, among them Best Musical and Best Original Score. Les Mis is not only the third longest-running musical in Broadway history, but the longest-running musical in the world, with the West End production alone having played an astounding 10,000+ performances.

Produced in thirty-eight countries and twenty-one languages, with over seventy official recordings, Les Misérables is quite possibly the most popular, most-performed work of musical theater ever written.

A film adaptation, produced by Cameron Mackintosh, directed by The King's Speech veteran Tom Hooper, and starring Hugh Jackman as Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert, was released on 14 December 2012.

Tropes used in Les Misérables (theatre) include:
  • Adaptation Distillation: As far as attempts at adaptations of the Doorstopper of a book go, this one is probably still one of the most loyal, even if it does cut out a few characters.
  • The Alcoholic: Grantaire. And some productions more than others emphasize Fantine becoming addicted to drink.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations
  • Anyone Can Die: Proven true, namely with the case of Gavroche.
  • The Artful Dodger: Gavroche. "This only goes to show what little people can do!"
  • Badass Grandpa: Jean Valjean.
  • Black Comedy Burst: Allow us to interrupt your regularly scheduled Breaking of the Cuties for some madcap fun as the Thénardiers cheat, poison, and steal from everyone in their inn!
  • Break the Cutie: Fantine. Also Éponine, and little Cosette. And Marius.
  • Broken Bird: Fantine.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Éponine.
  • Compressed Adaptation
  • Criminal Doppelganger: Champmathieu gets arrested in Jean Valjean's place because he just happens to look exactly like him. Of course, depending on the actors portraying them on stage, this can range from entirely believable to requiring Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: The death of Enjolras.
  • Dark Reprise: Every song gets a reprise. Most of them increasingly depressing.
  • Death by Despair: Jean Valjean, after being separated from Cosette.
  • Defiled Forever: Fantine.
  • Demoted to Extra: Inevitable, in this show, but Gavroche gets a lot more screen time in the book than in the play because his subplot's cut, going from one of the more memorable characters to a few solos and glossing over the fact that he's a Thénardier. Barring a change in songs, though, his death scene is kept mostly intact.
  • Determinator: Javert.
  • Did Not Do the Research/Artistic License:
    • There are sometimes moments, such as the line "They were schoolboys, never held a gun" in the song "Turning". When you consider that nearly everyone who died had fought on the barricades only 2 years before in 1830, and some in other riots, the idea that none of them had fought before is a little ludicrous.
    • The use of convicts as actual galley slaves in the new 25th anniversary production is also an example of this, since this had been abolished in the eighteenth century.
  • Dissonant Laughter: It's common to have Thénardier let off some cackles during the "Dog Eats Dog" number. Considering that he's gleefully looting the bodies of murdered men, and singing about how the world is a sack of crap, he definitely counts.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Les Amis.
  • Double Entendre: "I smell women, smell 'em in the air / Think I'll drop my anchor in that harbor over there..."
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Javert disguises himself as an insurgent and lies low in order to spy; Valjean wears a French National Guard uniform so he can cross the barricade.
  • Driven to Suicide: Javert, because of the cognitive dissonance caused by having his life saved by Valjean.
  • The Dumbledore: The Bishop of Digne.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Éponine, to Marius, in the song "A Little Fall of Rain".
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jean Valjean is practically the poster boy for this trope.
  • Embarrassing Rescue: Valjean sees Javert is slated for execution and requests that he have the privilege of killing the spy. Being killed by Valjean squares with Javert's rigid view of the world and he accepts it, feeling like a martyr. When Valjean unties him, fires into the air and urges him to flee, Javert at first thinks it's a trick, and is so shocked that he later self-terminates due to the ensuing cognitive dissonance. His entire view of the world is crumbling, and furthermore, as long as he is alive he must pursue Valjean, but at the same time, he feels he should not pursue a man who saved his life.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Miserable People.
  • Flanderization: It's inevitable with such a Compressed Adaptation... but there is more to Javert than chasing Valjean (snuff, for instance) and there's more to Éponine than loving Marius (insanity, for instance).
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Subverted. Marius and Cosette are sighing that they were born to love each other after about twenty minutes of conversation. But after Marius is gravely injured, Cosette nurses him during a convalescence of at least several weeks, and their relationship grows much stronger for it.
  • Good Shepherd: The Bishop of Digne.
  • Happily Adopted: Cosette.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Invoked. "One Day More" is an upbeat, looking-forward type song. Only later do you realize that one more day is all some of them got.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Gavroche may not actually be an orphan, but he still basically fits.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Played mostly straight with Fantine, who resorts to prostitution as her only available way to provide for herself and her daughter. Throughout, she still retains her love for Cosette.
  • I Am the Noun: "I am the law" sung by Javert.
  • Icon of Rebellion: The red flag, which was used as a symbol of revolution since 1789.
  • Identical Stranger: Champmathieu, who almost takes the rap for Valjean.
  • If I Can't Have You: Éponine. In the song "One Day More", Marius is trying to decide whether to follow Cosette to England or fight with the students. Éponine, standing there with him, practically makes the decision for him by grabbing his arm and then they both run off. A minute later, they are next seen joining Enjolras and the other students, and Marius tells Enjolras "My place is here, I fight with you." In the 2006 revival, Celia Keenan-Bolger (who played Éponine at the time) made this a lot more obvious. In the revival, Éponine extends her hand out to Marius, and he quickly grabs her hand and they both run.
  • Ill Girl: Fantine is reduced to a "ghost of herself", suffering from a never-exactly-named disease, and acts as a motivator for Valjean to go and retrieve her daughter, and then disappears from the story.
  • Infant Immortality: Cosette. Also heartbreakingly Averted Trope with Gavroche.
  • The Ingenue: Cosette as a grown-up.
  • Inspector Javert: The Trope Namer.
  • Ironic Echo and Soundtrack Dissonance: Done most certainly deliberately, as many of the songs are re-used throughout the musical for different people, situations and moods. Good examples are "Do You Hear the People Sing?", later re-used for the revolutionaries' chorus in the finale, with altered text. Another example is the prisoners' "Work Song", which is later re-used for the beggars' "Look Down", once again with altered lyrics (however, the situations are so painfully similar that these tropes are perfectly justified).
  • It Was a Gift: Valjean's candlesticks from the Bishop of Digne. He keeps them until the end of his life.
  • Karma Houdini: The only reprisal Monsieur Thénardier suffers for all his villainy is a punch in the face from Marius, right before "Beggars at the Feast". His wife gets off scot-free.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence:
    • Mid-song, in the case of Gavroche.
    • Éponine also dies mid-song.
    • Depending on the production, Valjean can be implied to die either at Fantine's "Come with me" or at "To love another person is to see the face of God".
  • Kill Him Already: Justified, because much as the rebels would like to kill Javert, they have a reason for holding him prisoner for an extended length of time: they are conserving their powder and bullets, and consider killing him any way other than shooting him to be reprehensible and beneath them.
  • Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: Javert to Valjean. Javert does not take it well.
  • Knight Templar: Javert.
  • La Résistance: Les Amis de l'ABC.
  • Last Stand: Les Amis at the barricade.
  • Load-Bearing Hero: Valjean, when he lifts a toppled wagon off its fallen driver. This costs him dearly, for Javert witnesses the rescue and is immediately reminded of a certain muscular fugitive.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Cosette spent a good size of her life alone. The song "In My Life" illustrates that Marius is a wake up call to the fact that there's a whole world outside of her garden.
  • Loveable Rogue: This version of the Thénardiers. (Now read the book.) Zigzagged with Monsieur (but only Monsieur) in "Plumet Attack" and "Dog Eats Dog", which are a very creepy contrast with "Master of the House" and its reprise.
  • Love At First Sight: Cosette and Marius. Depending on the chemistry of the actors involved, this can range from genuinely sweet and believable to absolutely ridiculous. Michael Ball and Rebecca Caine, of the 1985 original London cast, were notable for their chemistry onstage, but some other productions haven't been so lucky...
  • Love Triangle: Marius, Cosette, Éponine.
  • Loving a Shadow: Éponine's song "On My Own" ends with her having a revelation that she's not really in love with Marius, she's only in love with the idea of Marius, and even after this realization, she still clings to the delusions because it is literally the only thing she has to look forward to.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Lovely Ladies", an upbeat number about the dehumanizing life of a seaside hooker.
    • "I Dreamed a Dream" pretty much defines this trope.
    • "Turning" has the same melody as "Lovely Ladies", and is even worse. It is slowed down a bit.
    • Also, "Beggars at the Feast". Sure, the upbeat melody works for the wedding and the characters... then you realize they got here after robbing from the dead, and that their daughter and, it's implied, Gavroche have both died. "Clear away the barricades and we're still there" sounds a lot worse afterwards.
  • Memetic Number: 24601, the prison number of Valjean.
  • Memetic Outfit: Valjean's prison outfit, Cosette's black dress, Éponine's trenchcoat and hat, and the "Red Vest Of Doom" that Enjolras wears from the Act I finale onwards.
  • The Messiah: Valjean, and to a much lesser extent, Enjolras.
  • Mood Whiplash: Mostly in a lot of cast recordings where the reprise of "A Heart Full of Love" is cut, but it goes from the long, dark, depressing line of songs starting from "Dog Eats Dog" to "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" to... a triumphant wedding chorale and "Beggars at the Feast". It's incredibly jarring.
  • Multiple Demographic Appeal: Hot men! Gorgeous women! Incredible music! A glorious revolution! Death! Bloodshed! Humor! This show has everything.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:Where to start, poor Jean.
  • No Name Given: Enjolras's name is actually never spoken in libretto throughout the entire musical due to pronunciation issues.
    • Though beginning the ABC Cafe scene with an exclaimed "Enjolras!" has become a pretty regular ad-lib, nowadays ...
  • Oblivious to Love: Marius to Éponine throughout the musical. He thanks her as a "friend" for bringing him to Cosette, despite her obvious feelings for him, and asks the devoted Éponine to deliver a love letter to Cosette in his name. However, this trope is thankfully subverted in their final scene together.
  • Official Couple: Marius and Cosette.
  • Pair the Spares: Many fanfic writers seem to think that Éponine and Enjolras should be paired, on the basis that they are both single.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Javert when he tries to spy on the Amis of the ABC. That is, until he is exposed by Gaveroche.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: The Thénardiers, in a stark contrast to the novel.
  • Rain Aura: The musical has a song that involves this.
  • Red Light District: At least some interpretations of the show set "Lovely Ladies" in this area of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Others call it the Docks but imply the same thing.
  • Relationship Compression: Marius/Cosette.
  • Remake Cameo: Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, will be playing the Bishop of Digne in the film version.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The Friends of the ABC are portrayed as heroic defenders of the common man.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot got cut out, but especially listening to the Complete Symphonic Recording, telling details from the original text sneak in: for example, M. Thénardier making his first fortune by robbing the dead after the battle of Waterloo, the fact that Valjean's Criminal Doppelganger is mentally deficient, etc.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal: Valjean in response to Javert before he sets him free from Les Amis. Also combines with a World of Cardboard Speech "You are wrong, and always have been wrong. I'm a man, no worse than any man. You are free, and there are no conditions, no bargains or petitions. There's nothing that I blame you for. You've done your duty, nothing more."
  • The Soprano: Cosette, so SO much.
  • Song Types:
  • Sour Supporter: Grantaire.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: {spoiler|Mme. Thénardier}}.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Éponine.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Both Fantine and Éponine. "For God's sake, please stay 'till I am sleeping -- and tell Cosette I love her and I'll see her when I wake..."
  • Stern Chase: Javert hounding Valjean for decades (which is really an artifact of adaptation distillation/compression; Javert is not such a monomaniac in the book). Some do at least give the impression he actually did other things, but keeps hearing about that ONE guy...
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Thénardier wears a Napoleonic uniform at the start of the play as a remnant from his supposed days as a soldier (if by "soldier", you mean "guy who looted corpses on the battlefield").
  • Sung Through Musical
  • Survivor Guilt: "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables".
  • Take a Third Option: Javert is stuck between arresting Valjean or letting him go in a certain climactic scene. Instead, he commits suicide.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Fantine, depending on the actress, she might not be aware of her impending death -- however, Valjean is, and he assures her before she dies that he will raise Cosette and take care of her.

Fantine: Take my hand, the night grows ever colder; Take my child, I give her to your keeping... And tell Cosette I love her and I'll see her when I wake...

  • Tempting Fate: "This time there is no mistake," sings Javert proudly when boasting about how he's at last apprehended Jean Valjean -- to Jean Valjean himself. Valjean himself verges into this when (in some versions) he asks Javert if he's sure that he's not Jean Valjean.
  • Tenor Boy: Gavroche.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: Valjean, to the extreme.
    • And the Bishop of Digne.
  • Unholy Matrimony: The Thénardiers.
  • Villainous Breakdown: "Soliloquy (Javert's Suicide)" is this in song form.
  • Wham Song/Wham Scene: The barricade battle scene. By the end of it, half the cast is dead, including Enjolras, Gavroche, all the barricade boys and Éponine.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Marius, Enjolras, heck all the ABCs except Grantaire.
    • YMMV to the extreme on that. If you're aware of your history/the actors do their research, it becomes pretty apparent that all of them went in eyes wide open. After all, they had all participated in a nearly-succesful revolution just two years prior... They knew exactly what to expect.
  • You Are Number Six: Despite the fact that the book hardly mentions Valjean's prison numbers (yes, in the book, he has two), the musical is crazy about this one. Actual counting reveals that Javert calls Valjean more often by his number than his name. Valjean refers to himself as "24601" once.