Magical or miserable? Sarah Whitfields mission to understand her dad’s love for Les Miserables became so fascinating, she wrote a book about it…

30 Jul
Posted in: Features
Author: Sarah Whitfield

Did Les Misérables make you miserable? Or did it inspire you? When Sarah Whitfield was a teenager, her dad frequently embarrassed her with his love of the show above all others. So, after he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, she set out to find out why the musical meant so much to him and to its worldwide following. Here are some of the responses she received…

Why we love Les Misérables:

 “This story is what has gotten me through some of the most difficult things in my life and I love it more than anything.”

 “I have found that I listen to it when I’m sad. Somehow, knowing that the characters are worse off than me makes me feel better.”

 “I was passionately obsessed between the ages of nine and 11. I fell asleep listening to the complete symphonic recording every single night and read everything about Les Mis that I could, including devoting a year to reading the original Hugo when I was 10. Nothing artistic ever mattered to me like Les Mis mattered to me as a child. As an adult, I now view it critically and recognise that, though it offers highly effective emotional manipulation, in many ways it isn’t actually a great musical. That said, it still has tremendous power over me as an adult due to the nostalgia factor.”

Why we don’t…

 “I’m baffled as to why many rate it as one of the greatest musicals of all time. If anything, it’s a standout reminder that musicals can be dreary, unrewarding, and verging on pointless when undisciplined.”

 “I guess it still doesn’t really strike me like it does other people. I got into Les Mis after Hamilton, so it sounds really similar.”

How we first heard it:

 “My father had copied Annie to a cassette for me, and at the end of the tape he had added the start of the London cast recording to fill out the space.”

What stays with us?

“Michael Ball singing ‘Empty Chairs’.”

Characters we connect with and why…?

“Eponine: Her friend zone predicament.”

“Eponine: We’ve both been through a lot, we’ve both fallen in love with someone who would never love us back, and we both have the same vocal range.”

“Gavroche. Ideas above his station that lad. Kid’s barely seven and he speaks like Karl Marx.”

Performing in the show:

“As a lifelong fan of the musical it was a total dream come true to just be in it. Singing the finale on the closing night was an especially emotional memory for me, and still is to this day.”

“I’m doing the show now in school. It’s so fun to get to perform a show that I like and also do it with all my friends.”

Anything else to add?

“Colm Wilkinson is bae.”

  • Sarah Whitfield’s Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables is published by Routledge