Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

'Les Mis' for Dummies

With both the film and the musical playing in the city this weekend, which should you choose?


There’s a reasonable argument to be made that Les Miserables has become the most popular — or at least pop — musical of all time. The London production is still in its original run, which has been underway since late 1985. The Broadway version claims the fourth-longest run in New York history, at over 6,500 performances — and three years after it closed, they brought it back and did it another thousand times. Touring productions are a staple, even in concert performance; well over three million copies of the soundtrack, in various incarnations, sit in American homes. And, of course, the long-awaited film adaptation has been nominated for eight Academy Awards; it’s already grossed over $130 Million.

It’s certainly an unlikely phenomenon. An unwieldy classic novel about the French Revolution is hardly ripe material for a Broadway hit; nor was the earliest version of Les Mis, a French-language concept album, an easy candidate for translation and staging. Even the legendary West End production received a cool welcome from critics on its debut. Popular sentiment, however, was behind the epic musical almost immediately; 27 years later, there hasn’t been a moment when the show hasn’t been a cultural force.

This weekend, Les Mis has the run of the city, with the film playing at every cinema worth mentioning and the acclaimed (and, surprisingly, revised) touring production — rumored to be gearing up for the next Broadway revival, in 2014 — playing a second weekend at the Benedum Center.

So what to choose? I’m assuming that if you’re a diehard fan (and there are many), you’ve already seen both. To the curious, the casual, the confused, a guide:

If you’re familiar with the show, go to the movie
Counter-intuitive, I know, but even the once-a-year theatergoer has likely seen Les Mis two or three times. The film breathes new life into the show, in a number of ways. The storytelling is more clear; the ability to, you know, actually change locations helps a lot, particularly in the second act (which always suffered a bit from rushed storytelling.) The intimate performances — famously recorded live on set, rather than in a studio after the fact — bring the emotional wallop of the titular misery home in a big way, in contrast to the occasionally-operatic style of the stage version. And the production is beautifully done, with every set and scene imaginative and vivid.

If you’ve never seen it, go to the Benedum
Sales figures and speculation aside, Les Miserables is among the best musicals ever written, and maybe the greatest. Songwriting this good rarely collides with Broadway, frankly, and there isn’t another hit with the quantity of gems found here. While many of the moments are indeed more personal, larger set pieces like the building of the barricade are impressive on stage. And, yes, the voices will be a hell of a lot better here than at the multiplex — though the complaints about the Hollywood types have largely been overblown. Most of them do just fine. Except for Amanda Seyfried. Girl can’t sing a lick.

If you’re prone to obsession, go to both
Whereas most musicals are easy to move on from — no one ever listened to the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack non-stop for a week — Les Miserables tends to inspire slavish devotion. If you’re the type who gets really into stuff, save yourself the time and knock both out while it’s easy.

If you don’t like singing, stay far, far away
They sing every line. Every single one. Seriously.

For tickets and info on the touring production, click here. For movie showtimes, click here.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Pittsburghers - Do You Need a Digital Detox?

Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel is now offering a package where guests must literally unplug from technology.

Mindful Brewing is a Friendly Neighborhood Spot (With Good Beer)

The South Hills brewery and restaurant is an above-average entry in the rapidly expanding list of local spots for in-house beer.

Munhall Native Auditions for American Idol

A rising Pittsburgh star vies for her chance at fame.

Lack of Empathy Leads to Uncivil Discourse

A panel discussion at Duquesne University focused on the tough task of teaching empathy in the digital age.

How Making Juice Changed Sharif Rasheed's Life

The owner of Safi Juice in Garfield left a job he hated to tap into something from his childhood.

Pittsburgh's Can't Miss Concerts in April

This month's lineup includes Rick Astley, Billy Price, Christopher Cross and Ronnie Milsap.

Pittsburgh Flicks and Nightlife in April

Tour local social clubs with the Roaming Social Club; expect changes at AMC Waterfront

April: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Undercover: What We're Reading in April

A look back at "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" as it turns 30, plus two literary events coming up in April.

Perspectives: ‘This Is Us’ Is a Story of Us

A former Pittsburgher finds more than a few similarities between his own life and that of the siblings on "This Is Us."

Spare Change: A New Way of Giving

A local group is using music and some spare change to help charities — and filming every step of the way.

Look How Mighty This Bellevue Garden Has Grown

Last season, the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden produced 4,862 pounds of food; the harvest was donated to three food pantries.

When and Where to Dump Your Junk (including old TVs)

A state environmental agency wants to help you recycle your hard-to-dispose-of household clutter.

Watch: Trailer of “Won't You Be My Neighbor”

The documentary about Mister Rogers' iconic show takes viewers beyond the cardigan collection and into “the heart of a creative genius.”

On a Lark: Pittsburgh Mom Creates Activewear for Babes

Unable to find cute, environmentally friendly gear for her newborn son, Lark Adventurewear founder Pallavi Golla launched her own line of moisture-wicking clothing for kids.