I’ve been a fan of musicals for quite some time. In junior high my friend, Jimmy, and I would regularly listen to The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. I didn’t even see the actual show until I was 29, but I had all of the lyrics to each song memorized by the time I was 13. Jimmy and I even performed the first letter scene in our ninth grade drama class, mostly because we didn’t have to memorize anything new.
So it’s not surprising to me that I’ve had Les Misérables stuck in my head for over a week. I’ve never seen a professional staging of the show, but I did see the 2012 film version. And recently I saw a high school production because one of my students was in the cast. Since I saw that high school production the music has been ringing through my head, so much so that I bought the soundtrack and watched the movie last week.
The music is my favorite part about Les Misérables, but a close second is the story of grace and redemption. Jean Valjean, the convicted thief, is shown mercy by a priest, which turns Valjean’s life around. That one act of mercy leads to a transformed life and desire to care for people and do what is right.
Valjean is countered by Javert, the stringent lawman who pursues Valjean for years. Javert cannot understand the concepts of grace and mercy, even when they are shown to him. He’s trapped in a world of laws and rules, incapable of breaking out and experiencing something more.
Les Misérables premiered in 1980 and has had lasting success for over three decades. Undoubtedly that is due in part to the amazing music, but the appeal of the story cannot be denied. The musical has been performed all over the world and people all over the world want to hear stories and messages of grace and mercy.
Our favorite stories, the ones that are most enduring, usually reflect the greater narrative of God’s story.
Star Wars is about good, evil and the opportunity for redemption.
Lord of the Rings is about banding together for the greater good.
Les Misérables is about one act of mercy completely transforming one person’s life.
A lot of stories have endured throughout human history, but those with the biggest impact tend to reflect God’s narrative. When Luke triumphs, when the Fellowship finally succeeds and when Valjean eventually finds peace, our spirits soar because we know we’re catching a small glimpse of what God is accomplishing and will ultimately accomplish in this world.
And if there’s an infectious soundtrack to help our spirits soar a little higher, well that’s even better.
What’s your favorite musical?