Do you hear the people sing? Well, if you were in the audience of London’s Barbican Arts Centre today in 1985, you would have been among to here the people “singing the songs of angry men” in the world premier of the English language version of a new musical called Les Misérables.
The show’s origins can be traced to a production of the musical Oliver! French songwriter Alain Boublil saw a London production of that musical, and upon seeing the Artful Dodger walk on stage, he instantly thought of Gavroche, the crafty street urchin from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. So, Boublil got in touch with a fellow composer, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and the two began the process of turning the novel into a musical. Interestingly, despite having a long history of opera, popular song and chansons, France did not have a history of musical theater, so in 1980, Boublil and Schönberg released a concept album of the songs for a then theoretical musical version of Les Misérables. The record was a hit, and in September of that same year, Les Misérables was performed at a sports arena, Paris’ Palais des Sports. The show was a hit, and over half a million people saw the original production during its initial run.
It was just a matter of time before a producer would come calling with the intention of bringing the show to a larger audience. Fresh off of the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, producer Cameron Mackintosh contacted Boublil and Schönberg about bringing Les Misérables to London’s famed West End. The show, now with an English book and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and James Fenton, opened on October 8, 1985 under the umbrella of The Royal Shakespeare Company with now musical theater legends Colm Wilkinson and Patti LuPone starring as Jean Valjean and Fantine, respectively, alongside British character actor Roger Allam as Javert. The initial critical reviews were largely negative, but the show became a massive hit and the critics soon came around to popular opinion. The show opened on Broadway in March of 1986, and went on to win eight Tony Awards, including the trophy for Best Musical. The Broadway production of Les Miz closed in 2003. The West End production on the other hand is still running, and at over ten-thousand performances, it’s the longest running musical in the history of the West End.
Today’s featured drink comes to us from the book Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by Tim Federle. It’s a fun champagne cocktail called, prepare to groan, Les Fizz. It’s a bubbly cocktail that has a nice herbal taste thanks to the St. Germain elderflower liqueur.
- 1/2 ounce Gin
- 1/2 ounce St. Germain
Pour the gin and St. Germain into a chilled champagne flute and fill to the top with champagne. Garnish with a strawberry stabbed with a French flag toothpick.
Tomorrow: “Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to…”