As the self-proclaimed “world’s most popular musical,” “Les Miserables” has entranced audiences for over 30 years. It has been performed in over 25 languages in almost every continent. It currently enjoys its status as the longest-running musical of all time, with the original 1985 production still running in London. In New York, it currently plays at the Imperial Theatre.
“Les Mis” is also my personal favorite musical. Having seen it twice, there is something incredibly mystifying and touching about it. It is a tale of redemption, love and courage. The songs are all greatly memorable. It is a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish.
After internalizing the Jesuit values that Fordham espouses, I view the story arches in a different light. Ironically, the author of “Les Mis,” Victor Hugo, was strongly anti-clerical. Yet “Les Mis” is truly a religious story — whether it was meant to be or not.
The Bishop plays a small role in the musical, but he is the catalyst for all of the events that take place. He offers Jean Valjean hospitality after Valjean’s release from prison. When Valjean steals from the Bishop and is subsequently captured by the police, the Bishop allows Valjean to keep what he stole as a gift and even adds two silver candlesticks. Ashamed and humbled by the Bishop’s kindness, Valjean seeks to begin a new life, although he is relentlessly pursued by the unyielding inspector Javert. The Bishop’s sacrifice helped Valjean resuscitate his hopes and desires to live free from the stigma of his criminal past — the first step in Valjean’s path to redemption.
The Bishop’s sacrifice is the precursor to a key theme in “Les Mis.” Several of the doomed, tragic characters — the desperate Fantine, the lonely Eponine and the defiant Javert — express the idea of self-offering to a higher power. Fantine sells all of her possessions, cuts off her long hair and eventually works as a prostitute in order to provide for her ailing child, Cosette. Eponine continually does favors and puts her safety at risk for Marius, who does not return her affections. Javert, who once considered himself a man of stern principles, faces an intricate moral dilemma: to do something illegal (allowing a convict to run free) or something immoral (arresting the man who saved his life).
The struggles of these characters reference the Jesuit Order’s emphasis on making sacrifices to obtain personal peace and happiness. They will do anything to protect what they love, although their oppressive world makes them pay the ultimate price.
“Les Mis” is a musical that appeals to all different groups of people. The final line of the show is “to love another person is to see the face of God,” which is analogous with the Jesuit belief of finding God in all things. St. Ignatius of Loyola and all the following Jesuits are able to find God’s love in all humans, regardless of appearance or social status. If St. Ignatius himself were alive today, he would surely enjoy “Les Mis.”