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 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 adapted the libretto.The result was what can only be called a bona fide musical theatre phenomenon. The show opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Barbican Theatre in 1985, and has been running without interruption ever since. It debuted on Broadway two years later, where it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. "Les Mis" is not only the fourth-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.Played over forty-five thousand times in 308 cities and forty-two different countries around the world, with over seventy official recordings in twenty-one separate languages, Les Misérables has been hailed as the most famous, most popular, most influential, most beloved, and most-performed work of musical theatre ever written.Word about the long-awaited film version finally getting a release spread quickly when the official trailer came out in November 2012, and the movie debuted on Christmas Day 2012, with wide and international release in January 2013. See Les Miserables (2012).
Accidental Hero: Thénardier. His attempt to blackmail Marius leads to Marius discovering the truth about Valjean saving his life.
Accidental Misnaming: Thénardier seems to have a lot of trouble remembering Cosette's name, calling her Colette.
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 as also getting an alcohol addiction around the time of "Lovely Ladies".
All Crimes Are Equal: It's bad enough that Valjean gets four years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread (and breaking a window pane)... but then he gets another fifteen for his four escape attempts. Ouch.
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 two 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 25th anniversary production counts, since this had been abolished in the eighteenth century.
As You Know: Granted, awkward exposition is to be expected of the genre. Still, a particularly noticeable example is Valjean's line "I am the mayor of this town" in "At the End of the Day".
A Taste of the Lash: Depending on production, but some of them show little mercy for the convict soloists in the "Work Song".
Backstory Horror: The Tenth Anniversary Concert prominently features Gavroche in the background of "A Little Fall of Rain", looking horrified. This is even more heartbreaking for those who read the book, which explains that Éponine is his sister.
The recent Broadway revival makes it even more obvious, as Gavroche is outright sobbing loudly at Eponine's death, to the point where he needs to be comforted by one of the students.
Bait the Dog: Though this was far from M. Hugo's original intent, the musical gives its most upbeat, funniest, and catchiest musical number to Monsieur Thenardier and his wife, as they swindle, cheat, and serve questionable food to the patrons at their inn, and abuse and starve the little girl they're supposed to be taking care of.
Because You Were Nice to Me: Valjean to the Bishop of Digne. Because this man showed him kindness and love he had not known for nearly 20 years, it inspires Valjean to become a better man.
The Big Guy: Varies with the production of course, but Valjean is often cast as this, given his prodigious strength.
Big "NO!": Depending on the production, there is sometimes one when Gavroche dies.
Bittersweet Ending: Well, most of the cast is dead. But at least our Alpha Couple live happily ever after. And Valjean finally finds absolution at the end of his life. And the ghosts give us hope for a better future.
Javert. Such an extreme case that when he's finally forced to challenge it, he's driven to suicide.
On the French Concept Album, "Javert's Suicide" is even called "Noir ou Blanc" (Black or white).
Black Comedy Burst: "Master of the House" is short for, "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!"
Consummate Liar: Valjean lives under false identities during most of the story.
Contrived Coincidence: Usually the fact that all important characters happen to show up in the same place at the same time.
Criminal Doppelgänger: 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, or you needing to have a Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
Cross-Cast Role: In professional productions Gavroche is sometimes understudied by an adult female member of the cast.
Cut Song: Most of Eponine's Leitmotifs from the original French concept album and musical — in particular, the song "L'Un Vers L'Autre" — were removed from the Cameron Mackintosh production. Instead, Eponine sings "On My Own", which is a reprise of Fantine's "Come To Me".
Daddy's Girl: Cosette to Valjean. As long as he allows her to.
Demoted to Extra: Inevitable, in this show, but Gavroche gets a lot less screen time in the play than in the book 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.
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.
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 (mental illness, for instance.) The barricade boys also have a bit more character that the little that actually gets sung.
Fourth Date Marriage: A Subverted Trope. 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.
Galley Slave: The 25th Anniversary production has Valjean serve time on one of these, despite being a huge anachronism, although the shore prisons in 19th century France were still called “the galleys”. Other productions are usually more accurate.
Heel Face Door Slam: Javert's suicide as a result of his cognitive dissonance over Valjean's mercy.
Heel-Face Turn: Valjean after being pardoned by the bishop. Javert after Valjean refuses to kill him. Marius has one after he learns Valjean saved his life, though he was never as much of a "heel" in this sense as he was in the book.
Hellhole Prison: Depending on the staging of the production, this goes a bit into Informed Attribute territory. The lyrics even compare the prison to hell, but at least in the “replica” staging, chains and tools were imaginary…
Hero with Bad Publicity: Fits Valjean to a T. He may have saved the lives of everyone and their dog, but to those who know his identity, he is still an ex-convict/convict on the run and more often than not treated accordingly.
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.
Horrible Judge of Character: Played with. At first it seems the Bishop of Digne's Christian kindness was wasted on Valjean as he stole from him. However his faith in the inner goodness of Valjean pays off in the end, after some shaming for his actions and more kindness. See What You Are in the Dark for more.
Hypocritical Singing: In "Master of the House," Monsieur Thernardier sings about what an honest and decent innkeeper he is... all the while constantly cheating and conning everyone in the inn.
If I Can't Have You: At least it seems that way with Éponine in "One Day More." Marius is debating to himself whether to follow Cosette to England or fight with the students. Éponine, standing beside him, practically makes the decision for him by grabbing him by the arm and the two of them running off. A minute later, they are next seen with Enjolras and the other students, and Marius tells Enjolras "My place is here, I fight with you."
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.
Incredibly Long Note: The last notes of "Who Am I?", "I Dreamed a Dream", "Stars" and "Bring Him Home" as typically performed.
Incurable Cough of Death: Fantine often coughs in “Lovely Ladies” and/or “Fantine’s Arrest”, though typically nowhere else. The book implies that she's contracted tuberculosis, an often fatal disease then for rich and poor alike, and describes her decaying spirits in depth.
Deliberately, as many of the songs are re-used throughout the musical for different people, situations and moods. However, these usually bear some relation to each other and their musical association adds an extra layer of meaning. 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).
"What Have I Done" and "Javert's Suicide" are also painfully similar, with the same melody, and in some places the same words, but with a different meaning. This seems to be, again, well-justified, as they are both sung at times of great emotional and mental upheaval as a result of another person's mercy. The most significant difference is that the first one ends in redemption, and the second one ends in suicide.
The same melody is also used by Javert breaking up the scene on the street where Thénardier is accosting Valjean, in a completely different tone - depending on the production, it could be righteous anger or nothing more than just another day on the job.
Bits and pieces of the second theme from "I Dreamed a Dream" show up in all sorts of other places - Valjean's line "Now her mother is with God / Fantine's suffering is over" when speaking to the Thénardiers, for example.
As a climactic musical number, "One Day More" is cobbled together from pieces of "I Dreamed a Dream," "Master of the House," "Do You Hear the People Sing" (appropriately enough), "On My Own," and others.
Purely an Ironic Echo example: Marius warns Eponine, "Get out 'Ponine / you might get shot." And Eponine responds with, "I've got you worried now I have / that shows you like me quite a lot!" Later on, Eponine does get out fine, but is fatally wounded returning from Marius' errand, before the fighting even starts. Marius, appropriately, is much more worried than he originally was, when he realizes she's dying.
The Bishop of Digne's melody is later heard again as "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." The Bishop survived the first French Revolution, but lost almost all of his friends and family. Marius has survived the student rebellions, but at the cost of all of his friends.
Irony: Of the Situational sort. Fantine is fired from the factory when one of the other workers implies that she sleeps around for extra cash. She does not. Her inability to get any other job leads to her becoming a prostitute.
It's All My Fault: Valjean has a tendency to accept blame even when his involvement was minor at best.
It Tastes Like Feet: In "Master of the House", the inn's patrons sing that Thénardier's stew tastes like something he scraped off the street and his wine is like turpentine (even elaborating "must have pressed it with his feet").
It Was a Gift: Valjean's candlesticks from the Bishop of Digne. He keeps them until the end of his life.
Valjean, although he didn’t think that maybe his daughter might be happier with him around
Éponine helps Marius to find Cosette, despite the fact that she’s also in love with him.
Justified Criminal: When youve got the choice between stealing and starving, few people would hesitate…
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" (and even that is in or out depending on the production). His wife gets off scot-free.
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.
Valjean gets a moment in the Prologue, where he describes the evening with the bishop. He might be talking to himself, but addresses the audience in most stagings.
When Marius walks into the meeting of the Friends of ABC, going on about how starstruck he is after seeing Cosette for the first time, Grantaire responds, among other witty remarks ("We talk of battles to be won/And here he comes like Don Juan!"), that Marius' display is "better than an opera!"
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.
Longing Look: Marius and Cosette exchange a very significant one
Loveable Rogue: This version of the Thénardiers touches on the trope. (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. Monsieur Thénardier's vampiric croon to the harvest moon above him, in which he literally sings that "God is dead", comes across as extremely dark.
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 Theme: "A Heart Full of Love" is most commonly associated with Marius and Cosette, but isn't a fully fledged love theme since it doesn't accompany all of their romantic moments.
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.
"Lovely Ladies", an upbeat number about the dehumanizing life of a seaside hooker. That the song occurs in the company of Fantine being accosted by an old crone asking to buy Fantine's hair, a request that she succumbs to while also being disgusted by, just adds to the jarring feelings.
"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.
"Stars" - Javert's oath to pursue criminals without mercy is set to a lovely, dreamy tune.
Also, "Beggar 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, son (Gavroche), have both died. "Clear away the barricades and we're still there" sounds a lot worse afterwards.
"At the End of the Day", an upbeat little song about how the life of the poor just keeps getting worse.
Montparnasse is named after the quarter of Paris he operates in
Jean Valjean's name literally means "John's as good as any other John."
Valjean’s alias of Monsieur Madeleine, chosen after Mary of Magdala (Marie-Madeleine in French), the repentant sinner
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 "Beggar at the Feast". It's incredibly jarring.
Musicalus Interruptus: A rare non-comedic example at the end of “A little fall of rain”. Éponine dies and Marius has to sing the last word for her.
Multiple Demographic Appeal: Hot men! Gorgeous women! Incredible music! A glorious revolution! Death! Bloodshed! Humor! This show has everything.
My God, What Have I Done?: Valjean after his encounter with the bishop. The song is even named “What have I done?” (and continues with “Sweet Jesus, what have I done?”)
Mystery Meat: The Thenardiers' inn serves up some rather bizarre delicacies.
Kidney of a horse Liver of a cat Filling up the sausages with this and that!
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Thénardier goes to Marius to blackmail him with his knowledge about Valjean, but ends up telling Marius that Valjean saved Marius from the barricade (although Thénardier believed him to have killed Marius to rob him). Although Marius and Cosette arrive too late to save Valjean, he dies with Cosette at his side and the knowledge that the two know that he was not a bad man.
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.
Not in This for Your Revolution: Valjean is just there to save his daughters lover. Grantaire is an absolute cynic and doesn't give a damn about the revolutionary ideals of his friends, and according to the source material, is really only there because he idolizes and/or loves Enjolras
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.
Offscreen Inertia: Responsible for giving the impression that Javert does nothing but stalk Valjean after he breaks parole, or that Valjean does nothing but hide from Javert; originally their continued meetings are coincidence, but Valjean is branded with his prisoner number(s) and Javert hasn't forgotten the strongest man he'd ever met. Not helped by the scene in Paris where Javert asks (rhetorically) "Could he be the man I've hunted? / Could it be he's Jean Valjean?"
One Name Only: Inspector Javert, Fantine, both Thénardiers, all of the students minus Je(h)an Prouvaire and Marius, the bishop, Fauchelevent, Bamatabois…
Pair the Spares: Many fanfic writers seem to think that Éponine and Enjolras should be paired, on the basis that they are both single. Unless they choose to play off the legendary Ho Yay between Enjolras and Grantaire.
Paper-Thin Disguise: Javert when he tries to spy on the Amis of the ABC. That is, until he is exposed by Gavroche.
Cosette, after her father leaves her mother and Fantine has to leave her with the Thénardiers
The original version of the musical still features Marius’ grandfather, who, after the death of his daughter, forced Marius’ father to give the child to him. Marius finds out rather late that his father did not abandon him voluntarily.
Parental Favoritism: The Thénardiers spoil their own daughter, Éponine, while treating Cosette no better than a slave.
Pun: Victor Hugo is well known for his puns. "Les Amis de l'ABC" is one of them: the French pronunciation makes you read "ABC" as "Abaissé", the ones who are "down", meaning the people, thus making them "The Friends of the People".
Race Lift: It gets funny when actresses of different races play child and adult Cosette or Éponine. Or when the parents’ race doesn’t fit that of the daughter (Fantine to Cosette, or the Thernardiers to Éponine)
Rags to Riches: Valjean as M Madeleine. Considering his costumes, even literally…
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 Doppelgänger is mentally deficient, etc.
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.)
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").
Survivor Guilt: "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." "Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me / That I live and you are gone..."
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.
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, who is ideally played by a prepubescent boy, definitely fits in terms of range, but lovestruck and idealistic Marius fits best for personality.
Third-Person Person: Javert doesn't always refer to himself in the third person, but he does do it a lot more than other characters.
Together in Death: What Éponine hopes will happen to her and Marius. Sadly (for her), he survives.
Well, ya know, Valjean did break his parole and all. And becoming a rich mayor under a false identity is grounds for a fraud investigation. And, in the book at least, the Thenardiers swear blind that Valjean kidnapped Cosette. Technically, Javert is in the right to want to rearrest him. Technically.
And that's why Valjean doesn't kill him, because he's knows Javert is just following the law.
Valjean: There's nothing that I blame you for. You've done your duty, nothing more.
Valjean brings this up when arguing with himself over revealing himself or not - all the good he's done for the town vs. life in Toulon for Champmathieu. Then he reasons that all the good he's done would mean nothing if he let Champmathieu go in his place.
Enjolras brings this up to Marius as to why the latter should favor the revolution over pursuing love and chasing after Cosette.
Enjolras: Who cares about your lonely soul? We strive towards a larger goal, our little lives don't count at all!
What the Hell, Hero?: Fantine isn't too happy when Valjean comes to her aid when she's being arrested since, as she says: 'You let your foreman send me away/Yes you were there, and turned aside...'
What You Are in the Dark: Comes into play several times. First of all, the Bishop waits until the soldiers leave to make sure none but he and Valjean know that the candlesticks were not a gift, then Valjean chooses to out himself in "Who Am I?" when he could have passed his whole life in peaceful anonymity. Many of Valjean's finest moments involve this trope.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Marius, Enjolras, heck all the ABCs except Grantaire, though some productions emphasise this more than others.
Working on the Chain Gang: The opening song is about the torment the men face in it. Although whether there are actual chains is a matter of production. The “replica” staging (which is generally low on props) did not have any, but the 25th anniversary staging rectified that.
Fantine has finally been rescued from her misery and six months in jail by Madeleine, who promises to get her daughter. And then Thénardier refuses again and again to bring the child, Javert arrests Madeleine right at her bedside, revealing that he’s a wanted criminal. The shock kills her.
Valjean believes himself safe in his new identity only for Javert to make the whole thing crumble and put Valjean in front of the terrible choice of going back to prison or let an innocent go to prison in his place.
Cosette and Marius have managed to get to Valjean when he’s still alive – only for him to die ten minutes later
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. Counting reveals that Javert calls Valjean more often by his number than his name. Valjean refers to himself as "24601" once, to represent him deciding to submit to authority for the sake of clearing an innocent man.
Javert: Five years for what you did; the rest because you tried to run. Yes, 24601- Valjean: My name is Jean Valjean! Javert: And I'm Javert! Do not forget my name! Do not forget me, 24601!
Several actors and actresses who've joined more than one production.
During his time as swing, Killian Donnelly played just about all the major roles in the show, other than Marius, coming on as emergency cover Valjean twice, covering Javert at least once, and playing Enjolras (even before he became the principal) quite a few times as well! Someone's even put together an edit of him playing all the male roles save Marius in One Day More ...