Ever since it opened in London in 1985, Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables has been renowned in the musical theatre world, making audiences laugh, cry, and dream.
This summer, students have flocked to the Comox Valley Youth Music Centre (CYMC), coming from as far away as California and Africa, ready to perform in Les Misérables – School Edition, a version of the show that has been slightly altered to suit the needs of young performers.
Les Misérables is well-known for its awards and achievements, a long and impressive list. It is, after all, the third longest-running show on Broadway, the second longest-running musical in the world, and the longest-running musical on the West End, as well as being the winner of two Laurence Olivier Awards and eight Tonys.
But it is not the recognition that this show has received that makes it so loved. It’s the complex characters, the intriguing storyline, and, of course, the captivating music.
Ayden Chamberlin is returning for his third year at CYMC, a camp that he says “gives me everything I need to shine.” In fact, he has already started a blog to document his experiences with CYMC this year.
“Even people who don’t like musicals should see Les Mis,” he says, affectionately using the show’s well-known nickname. “You won’t find the ‘corniness’ or ‘random’ bursts of singing that are in other musicals; everything happens for a reason. The story is the focus.”
The story, of course, is based on that of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name. Chamberlin writes, “Someone … could say it’s just about a guy who steals bread, but you’d be wrong.”
The audience will follow Jean Valjean, known to his nemesis Inspector Javert as Prisoner 24601, as he escapes prison, but they will also be entranced by the stories of Marius and Cosette as they fall in love, of prostitutes working to support their daughters, and of student revolutionaries fighting for justice.
“Everyone can relate to it,” says Ann Edelstein. “It’s like a summary of a person’s life. We’ve all been rejected, poorly treated, misunderstood, and ignored at some point. Les Mis touches every single person because we all have felt misery and have overcome it.”
Edelstein has travelled to the Comox Valley from California, just so she can act in her favourite musical. “I’ve been wanting to perform in it for almost two years. I’m just so glad to finally have the opportunity to be in a musical I love so much and meet others who love it as much as I do.”
You can be sure that she has already met those others. Shea McKeown, returning to CYMC for her fifth year running, says that some of the greatest friends she has ever made were met through CYMC.
“There is nothing I’ve experienced that is comparable to CYMC,” she says. “You put 40 kids together for four weeks and they come out of it with lifelong friends.
“The characters are strong and complex,” continues McKeown, “and, of course, the entire show is woven together with beautiful music. Les Mis is a classic.”
Matt Ehrler, one of the assistant stage managers of the show, sums it up more simply, echoing the sentiments of anyone who has ever fallen in love with the show: “It’s Les Mis. I don’t think much more needs to be said.”
Les Misérables – School Edition will play at the Sid Williams Theatre from July 24 to 28, with a matinee on the 28th. Tickets are available at the box office of the Sid Williams Theatre, at their website (www.sidwilliamstheatre.com) or by calling 250-338-2430. Come and see why this show has made history not only on Broadway, but also in so many people’s hearts.