The book versus movie (versus musical, versus TV series) debate is endless, especially when the particulars of different characters are brought up.
Take Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” First of all, “Les Miserables” is one of the best musicals out there. I’ve performed in the musical adaptation, I’ve read, at least in part, the book and I own both the 2012 movie and the 20th anniversary Broadway production. I suppose you could say I kind of know the ins and outs of the show.
However, there is beauty and nuance to each version. One adaptation isn’t better than the other because someone does or doesn’t play a certain part, or certain themes are emphasized. No matter how it’s done, there’s beauty in all of it.
I love watching the characters develop. Even though I know they’re fictional people, after spending hours with them, seeing their flaws and mistakes, the characters just seem so human. Watching the characters grow and learn from their mistakes is magical to me.
A lot of growth happens in “Les Miserables.” Valjean learns to abandon his selfish anger and give his life to those around him, Cosette grows from a scared little girl into a confident young woman and even Javert develops from a cruel, torturous jailor to an obsessive investigator. I didn’t say all the character arcs are positive, just that they happen and they’re fascinating to watch.
Let’s talk about Javert for a moment. I don’t envy Russell Crowe for being cast as the jerk-wad of all jerk-wads. Despite the negative reviews, I think Crowe did an amazing job. Javert is a very complex character with an ambiguous motivation. I think Crowe did an excellent job of showing just what a conflicted life Inspector Javert would have led.
France in the 1800s was certainly not a pleasant place and for the sake of preserving the artistic meaning, a lot of the despair that could’ve been featured was left out. It makes me so upset when I hear more conservative audience members complain about certain scenes showcasing prostitution and poverty. Those things don’t happen as often as they did then, but they were and still are very real parts of society that I feel deserve as much attention as the pretty and nice parts.
The summer after I graduated from high school, I performed as Cosette in a community theater version of “Les Miserables.” I loved playing Cosette, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I’d have been friends with her in high school. She’s nice enough, but in comparison to intensely complex characters like Valjean and Javert, she‘s about as deep as a puddle.
To those who asked me if I like the movie or the stage musical better, this is my answer: I love them both! It’s not the actor or the music that makes it great for me, it’s the characters.