x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Les Misérables: A beginner's guide

What's the big deal about Tom Hooper's film and why all the hype?

Anne Hathaway, centre, plays Fantine. Courtesy Universal Pictures
Anne Hathaway, centre, plays Fantine. Courtesy Universal Pictures

For many people, Tom Hooper's Les Misérables will be their first introduction to Victor Hugo's tale of redemption, love and revolution; in fact, this is a film nearly 30 years in the making.

Hugo's novel is still considered a landmark of 19th-century literature, and has been adapted into countless films, radio plays, television series, cartoons and even comic books. The Les Misérables that Hooper's film is based on, however, didn't appear until 1985, when the London producer Cameron Mackintosh converted the French concept album into an English-language musical.

The Mackintosh-produced version debuted in The Barbican Centre to largely negative reviews, with critics saying the story's tone was too depressing. Audiences disagreed, and word of mouth soon spread, creating a stage sensation that has been converted across the world into nearly 40 countries and more than 20 different languages. Les Misérables has played constantly (albeit at several different theatres) in London since 1985, with the 10,000th performance taking place in 2010.

Two anniversary concerts have been held for the show, the most recent 25th anniversary being held at London's O2 Arena where a crowd of close to 20,000 people watched cast members past and present perform the now infamous songs such as Bring Him Home and I Dreamed A Dream. On Broadway, the musical has enjoyed tremendous success over the years, playing more than 6,000 times between 1987 and 2003 before being revived in 2006. A second revival, produced by Mackintosh and starring the English tenor Alfie Boe (who starred in the 25th Anniversary Concert), is planned for Broadway in 2014.

Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to the musical is that it is now seen as the "true" version of the story by the production's loyal fan base, many of whom set up websites campaigning for Hugh Jackman to win Best Actor at this year's Academy Awards even before the film was released.