Show and Tell: Grand, Gritty 'Les Misérables' at Village Theatre
The bottom line
The world's longest-running musical, Les Miz is set around Paris at the time of the French Revolution and is a grand and gritty story with the biggest of themes: Good and evil, forgiveness and redemption, power and freedom. Village Theatre's production of Les Miz (playing through Jan. 4 in Issaquah and Jan. 10-Feb. 2 in Everett), is an impressive and impactful performance to see on date night or with children who are ready (see notes below under "Oops, I forgot"). And, if you see it en famille, Les Miz can be an impetus to discuss big topics in meaningful ways.
I first saw Les Miz when I was about 14 in my hometown of Montreal. The years have passed since then and some of the details faded (see "Oops, I forgot"), but the tormented characters — Jean Valjean, who steals a loaf of bread and serve 19 years as a slave on a chain gang; Fantine, a destitute mother trying to support her child; the hardened officer Javert; good-hearted Cosette; tragically star-crossed Eponine — and the larger-than-life musical score ("Do You Hear the People Sing?" "Master of the House," "On My Own") stayed with me.
Village Theatre does an enormous job with Victor Hugo's story, interpreted many ways over the years on stage, in song and by Hollywood. The production unfolds as if in dream sequence — sometimes reverie, other moments nightmarish — with the collective and individual acts of revolt, both large and small, made cohesive by a mesmerizing cast. The production, directed by Steve Tomkins, is an ambitious one for Village Theatre: Many scenes changes, a revolving set, a demanding score and the challenge of conveying one of literature's most epic-yet-intimate emotional stories against the backdrop of war.
Oops, I forgot: Notes on kid friendliness
Having such romantic, rose-colored memories of seeing Les Miz as a teen (I might have related strongly to Eponine, just saying), I neglected to really think ahead about whether the story was appropriate for my own kids (6.5 and 8). In fact, if I had gone to Village Theatre's website ahead of time, I would quickly have found their super-useful production guide (a great document to check out ahead of any show if the theater provides it, as it can help you prep your kids for themes and foster discussions about the production afterward to enhance your experience). Right there in the guide, it so helpfully says:
" ... contains some harsh and realistic themes. There are several battles, fist fights, and acts of violence throughout the story, and many of the characters die. There is one scene about prostitutes, and one character in the story is forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive. No sex is portrayed on stage, but it is implied and discussed heavily. The language in the show is fairly mild, although words such as “damn” are used. There are also some themes of child abuse, but only verbal abuse is used on stage."
And that doesn't even cover the few (loud!) utterances of a certain derogatory term for lady of the night that starts with "wh" and at least one sharply sung [insert crude term for female dog here].
Um, oops. C'est terrible. Je m'excuse.
Seriously, though, I think the drama of the sets, the impassioned musical numbers and the fast pace probably (hopefully) eclipsed the baser elements. In any case, my girls didn't seem to notice the cussing, and they haven't yet asked any detailed questions about the half-dressed, over-rouged ladies strutting around the brothel, swatting away fully dressed men. They were much more curious about the barricade, the many deaths and the gunfire. Badum-bum.
A better parent might have been more discerning about the rough elements, but my feeling is that exposure to the arts comes with risk, and that I'd rather my kids be exposed to difficult things on stage than not be exposed to the stage at all. It's a personal choice; most parents would likely err toward tween age for this performance.
If you decide to take your kids to Les Miz, use the opportunity to explore the many historical, ethical and philosophical issues the story raises, such as class inequalities, fair punishment, the price of freedom, even sexism. If you have a teen, the story is rife with the kind of drama that plays out in their domain all the time: Who likes who, who likes who back, etc. Did Marius disrespect Eponine? Did Cosette know? Should Eponine have declared her love? If your teen lets you, it's an excuse to discuss young love through the side door. Good luck — my kids might be eternally damaged by a scene at the whorehouse, but at least I don't have to talk about junior high romance yet.
If you go ...
Where and when: Les Misérables is playing at Issaquah's Francis J. Gaudette Village Theatre through Jan. 5. Show times include select Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. It will be performed in Everett from Jan. 10-Feb. 2.
Length of show: Approximately three hours.
Tickets: $33-$68. Buy online.
Age recommendation: As noted above, check the super-useful production guide for detailed information about the show.
In between school drop-offs and coffee binges, Natalie Singer-Velush is ParentMap’s Managing Editor. In her former life she wrote for newspapers and once pumped milk in the bathroom of the King County Superior Courthouse while covering a murder trial. Natalie lives in Seattle with her husband and their two school-aged daughters.Google+