LE ROY PENNYSAVER & NEWS - FEBRUARY 26, 2023 by Lynne Belluscio There is always great excitement at school when the spring musical is announced. Last year it was “Newsies.” This year it is “Les Misérables” which is probably one of the most challenging musicals short of doing an opera. It requires a cast with what they call “a good set of pipes.” The junior and senior high students certainly are proving that they have the talent and voices to tackle this challenging musical. Les Misérables also requires a music teacher with enormous energy and dedication. The school certainly has that with Jackie McLean. I wanted to write an article about the show and include a bit of the history of Victor Hugo and his writings as well as the setting for “Les Mis” as it is often called. The musical is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables. Victor Hugo was born in France in 1802. When he died in 1885, he was given a national funeral and his body lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe. He was buried in the Pantheon. In 1823, at the age of 21, he published his first novel, “Hans of Iceland”. A year later he published a collection of poems. In 1827 he published a political drama “Cromwell” and he received public acclaim for his historical novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The next chapter of his life was filled with extraordinary literary expression, and personal tragedy. In fact, he went into exile for nearly 20 years because of his political views. He left France and settled with his family in Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, which is where he wrote Les Misérables. When talking about Les Misérables, its important to remember that it is a book. It is also a play. And, it is a musical. It was first performed in Paris as a drama in French on October 9, 1867. It was later performed in English in London and soon came to the United States. The drama has been made into several movies in many different languages. One of the most recent versions was made in 1998 starring Liam Neeson, Jean Geoffrey and Uma Thurman. In 1980, the drama was made into a musical. In 2012, the musical was made into a movie starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. Many people think that the story of Les Misérables is about the French Revolution, but it is not. The story can be confusing, but it is about a traumatic time in French history. It begins in 1815 and culminates in the 1832 June Rebellion. The main character Jean Valjean has been imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. He is a very bitter man and attempts to escape from prison many times. During one escape, he steals silver from the nearby church. The Bishop surprises him, but instead of turning him into the police, the Bishop gives him more silver and sets him on a path to redemption. Jean Valjean turns his life around and becomes a wealthy man but he is pursued by Javert, who wants to return him to prison. Jean Valjean adopts a young girl Cosette, whose mother Fantine has died. In the meantime, Jean Valjean is being pursued by Javert who knows Jean Valjean’s past. Javert intends to bring Jean Valjean to justice. In the meantime, young Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionary, Marius. Jean Valjean gives Cosette and Marius his blessing and saves their lives, but he knows that by saving their lives, he will be giving up his own. Victor Hugo’s story is tragic, yet it is considered one of the best novels ever written There is an interesting side note to this article. I was at the Woodward Memorial Library the other day and was upstairs in the rare books section. I noticed that in the midst of the beautiful books from Cora Woodward’s collection, were Victor Hugo’s books including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo’s poems, and Les Misérables. At first, I thought they might be written in French, but Trish Riggi checked for me, and they are the 1893 English edition published by George H. Richmond & Co of New York, translated by M. Jules Gray. The Woodward Library is dedicated to Orator and Cora Woodward and was built by their children. After the library was built, they donated their mother’s phenomenal book collection. In addition to the books by Victor Hugo, the library also has editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Charles Dickens, and Washington Irving and other classic books. The library has invited some of the students who are portraying characters in Les Misérables to come and read some of the passages written by Victor Hugo over 150 years ago. Tickets are available to Les Misérables on line www.showtix4u.com Les Miserables – school edition Performed entirely by students – A musical by Alain Boubil and ClaudeMichel Schonberg - school edition specially adapted and licensed by Music Theatre International and Cameron Mackintosh (Overseas) Ltd Thursday March 9 @ 7pm Friday March 10 @ 7 pm Saturday March 11 @ 7pm Pre-sale student/Senior Citizen $10 At the door $12 Pre-sale Adult $12 At the door $15 Victor Hugo – Les Misérables Cora Woodward’s Rare Book Collection at the Woodward Library.