It was 1987, I went to see Les Misérables on Broadway with my aunt, cousins and uncle. When the play began, the story seemed so familiar to me that I could almost predict the scene that is to come. Scene after scene, I was awed by the spectacular performances by all characters which mainly focused on Jean Valjean, a fugitive being sought out by Javert. There were particular moments in the play when I couldn’t hold my tears back as I listened to the words being sung. The music was spell-binding. Then, I remembered that I’ve seen a black and white film of Les Misérables while I was still in the Philippines as a young child. I remembered being so young and yet being so drawn by the film’s story that I kept watching until I finished it.
Now, I understand why it so that even after seeing the play four more times after I saw it the first time on Broadway, it still makes me cry. I just saw the film tonight and nothing could hold my tears back. Hugh Jackman’s performance as Jean Valjean was superb and Anne Hathaway delivered Fantine’s role intimately that I couldn’t help but let the tears fall. I experienced once again, the innocence of love between Marius and Cosette, the unattainable desire for recognition by Eponine, and Jean Valjean’s humility. It was nothing short of extraordinary.
I hurried home and downloaded the Kindle version of Victor Hugo’s novel on my iPhone. I have never read the novel and this time, I wanted to read every word and feel how the story of a fugitive could touch so many hearts.
The preface of the book says it all:
So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century – the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light – are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world; – in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use. – HAUTEVILLE HOUSE, 1862.
After reading that, I felt an inexplicable truth that purports the reason why I can relate to such a story from so long ago. Victor Hugo may have written the novel but the words of the songs written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil with a mixture of a “rough” translation from the original French play and new material, are so perfect that you not only follow the story but feel every emotion that comes with every scene.
The film was delivered beautifully as if I was watching it on Broadway again for the very first time. Most of my friends’ status on Facebook show that they were going to see the film today as well (the movie opened in theaters oday, Christmas Day 2012). I’m sure that none of them will be disappointed if they were a real fan of Les Misérables. The show was sold out for one showing but we managed to get tickets for a late matinee show.
I am and will forever be grateful to Victor Hugo for this story and to Cameron McKintosh for the well-chosen words used in the play.
The viewers of the film were so impressed that when the final scene ended, everyone offered a thunderous applause. A gesture rarely seen in theaters but means a lot. The last time I saw people applaud in theaters was after Jennifer Hudson’s performance of “And I am Telling You” in Dreamgirls.
If you didn’t get the chance to see Les Misérables (Le Miz) – I must tell you that it is a must-see film. Bring lots of tissues with you. 🙂