Despite being panned by critics when it debuted, Les MisÃ©rables is celebrating 25 years onstage (and a major Hollywood makeover). The popular musical, based on Victor Hugo’s epic novel, celebrates its silver anniversary with a new production that promises to delve more deeply into the writer’s psyche using images inspired by Hugo’s own drawings.
“It has been completely redone and utilizes these almost 3D-like projections on the stage that immerse you in this moving art that is jaw-droppingly beautiful,” says Jason Forbach, who plays Enjolras, the dashing revolutionary leader on the barricade, in the upcoming Vancouver production. “It’s much more fully fleshed out, too; it’s darker and grittier and provides a real modern-age emotional rush.”
Forbach, who is gay, joined this touring production in 2010 and has since moved up the ranks.
“We are definitely seeing renewed interest but not necessarily because of the movie,” he says. “We were playing a good two years before the movie came out, and we’ve seen just as many diehard fans as teens come out to see the show.”
Forbach thinks Les MisÃ©rables continues to draw people who see parallels between their own lives, today’s political landscape and Hugo’s 200-year-old story of poverty, resistance and change.
“What makes Les MisÃ©rables stand the test of time is there will always be something relevant within the story for an audience, whether it is politically, emotionally or culturally,” he says. “You can’t help but make a connection after seeing the things that are happening in other countries like Syria and Libya, or even here, where there is a great disparity between the haves and have-nots. One person I know even made a connection to what happened to his friends during the AIDS crisis.”
It is in those connections that Les MisÃ©rables is most powerful, Forbach says. And even as he laughs, initially, at the suggestion that the play’s hero, a single unmarried dad, might be gay, he pauses to consider the possibility.
“It’s an interesting question,” he says. “But while I don’t think he is gay, Jean Valjean is the epitome of self-discovery, literally asking, ‘Who am I?’ I think that is the same question that many gay men deal with.”