Tuesday, 18 October 2005

The People are still singing

Les Mis has now been on stage at the Palace Theatre in London's West End for twenty years, and Mark Steyn has some thoughts on its longevity. I confess, I'm a fan. I saw it at least half-a-dozen times in London -- each time friends would visit and insist on seeing Cats (uugh!), I'd insist instead on seeing Les Mis. I began by being dismissive -- "how could those philistines take that great novel and turn it into a musical!" -- but I was convinced ten minutes into my first show at the Palace.

Why does this sprawling novel work as a musical? Steyn quotes producer Cameron Mackintosh, the one who took all the risks:
Les Mis works because Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg found the right subject and told it the right way. Whereas most musicals pick the wrong subjects and do them the same old way... Les Mis is the world's most popular musical because Victor Hugo's book is the great universal social novel: it strikes a chord wherever its story is told - Vienna, Osaka, Reykjavik. With canny timing, it snuck under the Iron Curtain just in time for communism's death-throes: in Budapest it was seen as a parable of the 1956 uprising; in Gdynia, Poland, the little urchin girl's tatty tricolour was replaced by the Solidarity flag. And in New York it sells a ton of merchandising.
Do you hear the people sing? You still can at the Palace Theatre, London WC2.


  1. 'I began by being dismissive ..'

    Gee. An objectivist dismissive? Can't imagine that. :)

    There was a superb three-part doco on Windsor Castle in terms of its 'working castle' status (love it!) recently on Prime. Fascinating.

    The Queen hosted a state dinner to mark the occasion of the 100th anniv. of the 'Entente Cordiale' with France. There were 100+ dignitaries & bigwigs from the worlds of entertainment and sport from .. all the solid gold plateware & accessories you could imagine were dragged out to set a table whose end I could just vaguely make out in the distance. The service one receives when invited to Windsor is apparently second to none and based upon what one saw, one is not about to argue.

    The dinner ended with all guests seated in this cavernous ballroom where the West End cast of Les Mis presented a special performance by Royal request, literally hopping on a special bus after their WE performance that evening, to do so. The logistics involved were astonishing.

    So the story of the French Revolution was performed in front of both the British Monarch and the French President et al in the residing palace of the former.

    Who said we were not amused?!

    ps: you're right about 'Cats'. Saw in on Broadway after years of waiting and yearning.

    So much for the pre-match excitement. Went to bloody sleep less than half-way through. To date only Revenge of the Sith would rival it for boredom, 'for mine' (as we leaguepeople say).

  2. You may be pleased to know that Les Mis was financed by New Zealanders through the Venture Capital partnerships formed by Strada.
    I was in charge of their technology investments but of course I took my share of the deal and am still collecting royalties.
    For a few years New Zealanders where the major funders of musicals in London and New York – financing Les Mis, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Chess, and a host of others.

    Then because of film industry rorts the Government cancelled out the special partnership legislation (the same as that which drives the venture capital industry in California and Boston and Michigan and it was all over.

    Our investments in those musical earned the county millions. The films were rorts.


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