What is it that has made Les Misérables, the musical a worldwide phenomenon? Let us start with an attempt to sum up the 1463 page novel written by Victor Hugo.
This book is a drama whose first character is the Infinite. Man is the second. … Whenever we meet the Infinite in man, whether well or poorly understood, we react with respect. There is in the synagogue, in the mosque, in the pagoda, and in the wigwam, a hideous side that we detest and a sublime side that we adore. What a subject of meditation, and what a limitless source of reverie is this reflection of God upon the human wall!
This quote from the novel gives us a sense of what this story is truly about. It’s not about a minor uprising in the history of France. It’s not even about the salvation of Jean Valjean. It’s about that which is infinite and that which is hideous in us all.
We all experience misery in some way – we are all “les misérables.” From that place of misery we have two choices: To descend further into the shadows or to climb toward the light, the infinite! How do we climb toward the light? We love. Because, “to love another person is to see the face of God.”
This is all expressed through the characters of Les Misérables. Primarily by Jean Valjean, who is constantly being asked to navigate the hideous and sublime that lives within him; and Javert, who lacks the capacity to see the infinite in anyone. So, we can say that this story in its own way reaches to articulate nothing other than the infinite… Making it the ultimate subject for a musical.
Musical theatre, at its best, attempts to articulate that which is ineffable (because with music we can reach for what cannot be said by words alone). And what is harder to articulate than the infinite? With a score so expansive, so reaching, Les Misérables, the musical, does a miraculous job expressing Victor Hugo’s, “limitless source of reverie.” Which leaves those who see it with a renewed feeling of hope and a stronger connection to the infinite.
Perhaps that is why Les Misérables has become the most beloved musical of all time.
Biography for Peter Jorgensen
The Chemainus Theatre Festival is beginning to feel like a second home to Peter as Les Mis marks his 5th production here as director. Also for Chemainus: Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, and his own adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life that premiered here this past December. As an artistic producer with Patrick Street Productions Peter has directed Into the Woods, The Fully Monty, Bat Boy: the Musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein: Out of a Dream, Floyd Collins and The Light in the Piazza (Jessie & Ovation awards for Outstanding Production). Peter has received honours as an actor, director, choreographer, playwright, and producer. Visit Peter online at www.peterjorgensen.com.