Yesterday, a BBC Radio 2 poll revealed that Les Misérables had stormed to the top of the list of the nation's favourite musical theatre songs; with 'Bring Him Home' at number two, and 'One Day More' sitting in the top spot. The 25th Anniversary Concert production is coming to Sky Arts Freeview on Sunday for a victory lap.
So what better time to celebrate one of the West End's longest-running and best-loved shows? Here are some surprising facts about its 40-year-long history.
🚩 1. Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables has been adapted many, many, many times Yes, the West End musical is easily the most famous. But there's something about this story of punishment, struggle and redemption that really captures peoples' imaginations. There are a whopping 53 film versions of this story, from countries including Japan, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Sudan, plus many more plays – even TV series The Fugitive cites it as an inspiration.
🚩 2. The version we know and love started out as a concept album Like other massive hits Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess, and The Who's Tommy, Les Misérables started as a 1980 concept album. Its French creator Alain Boublil was inspired by a trip to see Oliver! in the West End. So he worked with composer Claude-Michel Schönberg to create another historical epic; albeit one with disco and rock 'n' roll sounds that definitely didn't make it into the show we love today.
🚩 3. The first run-through of Les Mis was nearly four hours long. British producer Cameron Mackintosh brought a retooled English version to the stage at the Barbican; one which got heavily pruned through its gruelling rehearsal process. One unlucky cast member had all his lines taken away but one: ‘Monsieur le Mayor, I have no words’.
🚩 4. The critics shredded it to ribbons After opening night, Lyn Gardner's review in City Limits called the show "a load of sentimental old tosh". She assures us that she's changed her mind since then: "I have my children's former childminder to thank for that. She had it on all day, and I quickly learned to curse my snobbery and embrace it".
🚩 5. The famous poster image is older than you think Remember that tear-jerking illustration of little Cosette? It's ripped straight from the pages of 1862 Victor Hugo's original novel Les Misérables – so its long-dead illustrator Émile Bayard isn't drawing any royalties.
🚩 6. Patti LuPone started the tradition for Fantine to drag up after the interval Director Cameron Mackintosh wanted the leads to join the chorus for scenes they weren't in – but Patti LuPone preferred to hit the bar in the second act. First, she tried hiding from Mackintosh to avoid going on stage. Then, she agreed to go on, but only on the condition she could dress as a boy; and the tradition stuck.
🚩 7. 'One Day More' is a song with links to three US Presidents Clinton and Obama both played the rousing number during their rallies for presidency in '92, '08 and '12, and you can see why; it's as stirring as the best political speeches. Thankfully, Trump didn't follow suit. But James Cordon used 'One Day More' to triumphantly celebrate him getting booted out of the White House.
Hopefully, this has got you psyched for Sunday's show; and if not, why not make like the Thénardiers and stock up on French red wine in preparation (authentic cat liver sausages optional). A musical with this many stories is well worth raising a glass to.
Until next week, Stage Savvy
ASK LYN: What will theatre be like when it comes back?
"I suspect we will see a great number of smaller cast shows with very big star names. Producers are going to have to give people very good reasons to go to the theatre rather than to the pub."
Quotes of the Week
"I wish I could redo Les Mis completely, because of the whole live singing aspect."
- Amanda Seyfried admits in WhatsOnStage that she was far from happy with her vocals in the 2012 movie adaptation.
"I miss a very particular type of after-show drink... the ones where the show was either so life changingly-transformative, or so hilariously shit that you simply must talk about it RIGHT NOW.”
- Francesca Peschier, in Exeunt's piece on missing theatre.
Lyn Gardner recommends Samuel Bailey's "short, sharp shock of a play", set in a young offenders' institution.
Grimm Tales( Until 14 Feb)
Lyn Gardner recommends this collection of twisted tales from seasoned digital innovators Creation Theatre.
OPENING THIS WEEK
Falling Stars (1-14 Feb)
Peter Polycarpou's song cycle is a tribute to the spirit of the 1920s musical theatre songbook.
Them's the Rules (Until 1 Aug)
Hester Chillingworth's online experiment is part of HOME Manchester's series of new works.
To Kill A Mockingbird (Opening 27 May, tickets from £24)
Rhys Ifans plays the iconic role of Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of the classic novel
Anything Goes (Opening 8 May, tickets from £25)
A fresh new production of the timeless classic musical starring Megan Mullally, Robert Lindsay, Felicity Kendal & Gary Wilmot
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Opening 1 Jul, tickets from £12)
The triumphant, new production returns for a strictly limited 10-week season this summer
Book of Mormon (Opening 12 Jul, tickets from £24)
Crammed with political incorrectness & blasphemy, it lit up the West End when it arrived in 2013 and is still selling out