Les Misérables and me – part one.

In honour of Les Misérables’ 30th birthday this week and the anniversary concert tonight I thought I would try and explain what Les Misérables means to me…personally. Last year I named Les Misérables as my favourite musical of all time, it was an easy decision and surprisingly it is not because of the amazing set, the emotive music and the feelings that the show evokes although all those things do make it special. Les Misérables and I have shared a journey which started back in the 1980s, I would like to share that journey with you now.

I was a late starter to Les Misérables, the show had been running for just over 4 years before I saw it for the first time in January 1990, at the Palace Theatre in London. I had missed it when it was playing at the Barbican and I had missed the original cast but I had followed news items and knew the story well, also I was extremely familiar with the music.

I was first introduced to the music from Les Mis by a local singing group that used to sing for charity in and around my hometown of Stafford and it wasn’t long before I bought not only the highlights album but also the French concept album as well and I played them constantly.

In the late 80s I was writing a theatre related column for my local newspaper and had a weekly radio show dedicated to Musicals. I travelled down to London once or twice a year to get my West End fix, which was not as often as I would have liked but it was all my student budget would allow at the time.

Eventually, through a distant contact I was thrilled to be offered tickets to see and review Les Miserables, this was like a dream come true and I eagerly counted down the days. It was an amazing opportunity not only for my radio show and column but also for me personally as I had been waiting to see it what seemed like forever.

I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive even though a tiny part of me worried that I had built the show up too much in my head and that it would prove to be a disappointment.

The day of the show duly came and when I arrived at the Palace Theatre I realised what a big deal this was. I collected my tickets and realised I had fantastic seats – stalls, dead centre, seven or eight rows back. Maybe it is my imagination but I recall being told that these were the seats that were saved for VIPs, I could believe it, they were that good.

However my joy soon dissipated into panic, I was informed that they had lined up the actor playing Enjolras for me to interview at the end of the show. Eeeek! I hadn’t been expecting that and I wasn’t at all prepared. I could hardly refuse though could I? Although I had interviewed a few people on my radio show, I had never conducted a West End interview before. I resolved to spend the interval thinking up some intelligent questions to ask after the show.

I took my (very good) seats and settled down to watch the production I had been waiting to see for a long time. The moment the orchestra started I was enraptured. If you have ever heard the opening to Les Misérables, you will know exactly what I mean. I had never seen a show like it. By the time I got to the interval I could hardly think straight and by the finale…I was a blubbering wreck.

We are not talking sniffling-into-a-hanky wreck, we are talking a totally-emotionally-wrung-out wreck.

As the theatre emptied and the audience drifted away, the realisation that I had to go backstage and talk coherently was fairly worrying, I was not in a good frame of mind. Les Misérables had been all I had expected and more. I couldn’t be more nervous interviewing the Queen.

Upon arriving I was told that Enjolras wasn’t available now but instead Linzi Hateley (Eponine) and Stifyn Parri (Marius) had been lined up to speak to me. Boy oh boy, my knees almost gave way, their version of ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ had had me in pieces. I was led backstage and to my chagrin the next 30 minutes were a blur…. Hateley and Parri were really sweet and friendly they made me feel really welcome but I am afraid I made a complete fool of myself.

My entire interview consisted of ‘blub – it was so good’, ‘sniff – you were brilliant’ and ‘oh – it was the best thing I have ever seen’. At one point Linzi mentioned she lived in Staffordshire and I thought I was made, and I wittered on and on hoping she would be my “bezzie” forever.

The fact that I was just a young teenager in London was not an excuse – these actors were not much older than me but I was completely and utterly starstruck, they must have thought I was completely bonkers!

Although I have wonderful memories of the first time I saw Les Miserables and fond memories of meeting the first people who ever made me cry in the theatre, I cringe when I think of how I made a complete fool of myself.

I have followed the careers of Linzi Hateley and Stifyn Parri over the years and was delighted to have an exchange with them both on Twitter not so long ago and was pleased to find out that they are still great friends. One day maybe I shall redeem myself as hopefully my interviewing techniques have improved a bit since that first disastrous attempt. But they were pretty wonderful that day, on and off the stage and it was a very interesting introduction for me to the world’s longest running musical.

I have seen Les Miserables many times since that day and there are many more stories which I am going to share over the next few days (hence this is part 1). Well I did say that this was a journey. Watch this space.

Sammi O’Neill

Share