By Prof. Sehdev Kumar
TORONTO: Two great writers of the 19th century – Charles Dickens in England and Victor Hugo in France – have told the stories of the lives of the forlorn and the marginalized in their societies with passion and poignancy.
A hundred and fifty years later, these two novelists, through many films, plays and musicals still continue to move, inspire and provoke hundreds of millions of people all over the world.
Hugo’s Les Miserables – a much celebrated musical – comes to the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto in all its haunting magnificence.
Based on the Book and Original Lyrics in French by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, Les Miserables, in English, casts a spell on young and not-so-young audiences with the lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, but equally by its music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lighting by Paul Constable, and Set and Image design by Matt Kinley, and direction by Laurence Connor and James Powell.
Les Miserables is a grand spectacle in every sense of the word. It is also a lesson in the French history after the Revolution of 1789, which had inspired hope of liberty and equality, but which, like all revolutions was marred by the Reign of Terror.
Les Miserables tells the story of petty crimes and severe punishments, of grace and hope, of dreams going awry but also of redemption. It tells the story of yet another revolution, in 1832, when, inspired by another dream of a new future, the students rebel; they kill and get killed. But in the midst of all the mayhem, there is a longing for a lost love, for a child’s innocence, for redemption from the life of crime and sin.
As a modern day opera, Les Miserables is a story told in songs and music, and everyone – the young children, the rebellious students, the poor and wretched women, the Mayor and the Bishop, the runaway criminals and the policemen – all sing, and they sing brilliantly.
Sets and lighting in this production have mesmerizing hold on the audiences. One cannot but be overwhelmed by the new technologies in theatre that move the sets and lights, video projections and sound effects, all with such amazing efficacy that one finds it difficult to believe that one is watching a real performance on stage.
Just imagine what William Shakespeare could have done four hundred ago if he had even one-millionth of the technology that contemporary spectacles like Les Miserables wield.
Toronto presents grand spectacles like Les Miserables because of the bold legacy of Ed Mirvish, who 50 years ago, in a fit of outrageous move, bought Royal Alexander Theatre , and purchased and restored the renowned the Old Vic Theatre in London. Now his son, David Mirvish, carries on his legacy as the producer of these spectacles that come from London, or from New York, but also thrive and are produced here in Toronto.
Les Miserables is a grand tribute to many enterprising spirits, starting with Victor Hugo 150 years ago, all the way down to every singer, designer and musician in the show today.
‘Les Miserables’ continues over the Christmas Season.
(Prof Sehdev Kumar lectures on International Films at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto)