Musical Theatre

2 July 2019

10 Unusual Facts About Les Misérables

It’s just under a week until our musical theatre workshop At The End of the Day so we have been investigating the award-winning musical Les Misérables. Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alan Boublil, Les Misérables is based on the 1862 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. It follows the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean through France as he tries to find redemption and escape the clutches of police officer Javert. The story culminates in a student revolution (based on the Paris uprising of 1832) and has become incredibly popular since its première in 1985. Les Misérables is one of the most successful musicals ever – it has been performed across the world and is the longest-running show in the West End. A show with this much history is bound to have some interesting stories to tell, so we have done some digging to come up with ten interesting facts that you may not have known about Les Misérables.

  1. When it opened in the West End in 1985 the reviews were awful! The critics hated the musical but the public fell in love with the show and within 24 hours, an unprecedented 5,000 tickets had been sold. It has since gained critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Tony award for Best Original Score in 1987.
  2. Each professional performance includes 392 costumes, consisting of over 5,000 individual items of clothing!
  3. A visit to the musical Oliver! inspired the show. Lyricist Alan Boublil went to see the London revival production and the Artful Dodger instantly reminded him of the urchin Gavroche from Les Misérables.
  4. The musical was adapted into a film in 2012 starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. Usually the music for film musicals is pre-recorded months before shooting starts but for Les Misérables, all the singing was recorded live on set which required a sound crew three times the normal size!
  5. In the film, the set used for the barricade scene was the same as the set used for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), just remodelled!
  6. In Victor Hugo’s novel he dedicates a whole chapter to discussing social reforms of the Parisian sewers. Thankfully this did not make it into the musical, although there is a short scene that takes place in the sewer as a reference.
  7. The late-Romantic composer Giacomo Puccini was approached about turning the novel Les Misérables into a full-scale opera but declined because he did not feel it was suitable for a stage show. Luckily Boublil and Schönberg did not share this opinion as then the musical may have never existed!
  8. The stage production in London famously features a revolving stage that allows seamless scene transitions.
  9. The musical has been translated into an astounding 21 languages, including Hungarian, Korean and Catalan!
  10. Les Misérables is a sung-through musical, but there are only two soundtrack albums that feature the whole score. One of these, The Complete Symphonic Recording, features cast members from all over the world and had to be recorded in three different places.

Les Misérables certainly has an interesting history and is a musical worth exploring. If these snippets of information have inspired you to want to find out more about the musical, why not come along to our musical theatre workshop At The End of the Day to perform songs from Les Misérables!

16 January 2019

What makes a hit musical? The enduring appeal of Miss Saigon

We’re getting close to This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop on Sunday 27th January at The Dance Studio Leeds. As we’ve been busily preparing for this event in the GCF office, there’s been some debate about what makes a musical like Miss Saigon a ‘hit’. Umi thought that the secret lies in memorable tunes that leave you humming for days. Selina came to the conclusion that it was all about the spectacle, the ‘whole shebang’; the best musicals have the ability to transport us to a completely different world. All this begs the question – is the story really that important at all?

The appetite for a night out in the company of an epic musical with memorable, hummable music shows no sign of abating. Back in 2013, when tickets went on sale for the 25th anniversary revival of Miss Saigon, £4.4m of bookings were taken on one day, a West End box office record.

Miss Saigon is an intriguing case. Looking back to when it first premièred at the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane in 1989, it seems daring to have turned the Vietnam war into a song and dance show barely 15 years after the end of hostilities. But in its broader themes – refugees and orphans of war, the morality and consequences of western intervention, forbidden and doomed love – the production has acquired a topicality that has nothing to do with Vietnam. Maybe the intricacies of story aren’t so important to musicals then, as long as it can appeal to universal themes.

Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr., the production benefits from an enduring collection of music that does what great musicals do: a balance of rousing choral numbers (“Morning of the Dragon”, “This is the Hour”, “Miss Saigon”) and haunting and emotive solo numbers (“American Dream”, “Movie in my Mind”).

Miss Saigon really does have the ‘whole shebang’. Audiences will forever be wowed by the life-size helicopter that miraculously descends from the rafters and appears on stage. The powerful, terrorizing machine is a deafening, airborne apocalypse and the show’s most theatrical moment. We’re left to wonder, just how did they do that?!

West End performer, Nigel Wong, who will be leading our workshop, starred in Miss Saigon at the Drury Lane Theatre from 1995-96. He starred as ‘the commissar’ as well as in the ensemble, and also covered the role of the Engineer. When asked what he thought made Miss Saigon a hit, Nigel said that the story WAS important, and that the vital ingredient was a good connection between the story and the music. He also said that, as a performer, it was crucial that a role could be adapted to the actor; there must be a flexibility to allow both the performer and role to shine through.

What do you think makes a ‘hit’ musical? The debate rages on in the GCF office. In the meantime, why not join Nigel for This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop. The workshop will give attendees an insight into how a musical comes together, the different genres within musical theatre, and the skills require to be a musical theatre performer.

Please note: this workshop is open to all levels, including complete beginners (16 yrs +).


WHEN: Sunday 27th January 2019, 11am – 1.30pm.
WHERE: Dance Studio Leeds, Mabgate Mills, Leeds, LS9 7SW.
COST: £25
Click here to book your place. Presented by the Dance Studio Leeds and Geraldine Connor Foundation.