Even as we are moved by the grandeur of Hugo's story, we are captivated by the remarkable stagecraft of director Trevor Nunn and the stunningly powerful score by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg. From the stark, desperate opening chorus of Valjean and his fellow prisoners ("Look Down") to the soaring passion of Eponine's song of unrequited love ("On My Own"), and from the heights of the barricades to the depths of the Parisian sewers, Les Miserables evokes, palpably and forcefully, Hugo's vision of a simple man made great by acts of justice and mercy, and of a group of visionary students who take on a grand lost cause because of its rightness, and fight for it to the finish.
In counterpoint, there is also the parallel tale of the policeman Javert, whose very belief system is destroyed by the existence of a man like Jean Valjean. And to provide darkly comic contrast, Les Miserables also gives us the Thenadiers, thieving scum who represent the worst of humanity; their final, taunting words--"Clear away the barricades and we're still there"--sadly all too true.
But it is the nobility of the heroes of Les Miserables that lingers in our consciousness. I know of no more effective moment in theatre than the one that follows the tragic and unnecessary annihilation of the rebel students on the barricades: a long, sustained silent tribute to the best qualities of humankind.
Les Miserables is, then, a brilliantly uplifting musical play. It is, too, a spellbinding pageant filled with romance, adventure, high drama and even some low comedy. It's totally theatrical... and entirely necessary.