Will Les Miz change the face of Musical Theater? Again???

Les Miserables is the Oklahoma of my generation.

Or, the Show Boat for the generation before.

I was 16 years old when I first saw it in Boston, MA, and had never seen anything like it on stage.  Before those three hours and ten minutes (this was before they cut it down to under three hours to save the $20k+ in overtime per week), my only experience with musicals was Annie, Anything Goes, and other fun but frothy musicals.   I almost instantly fell off my pre-law track and started wondering how I could be a part of the theater.  I wanted to have the same effect on people that this show had on me.  I wanted to move people.

Like Oklahoma and Show Boat, Les Miz ushered in a new era of musical storytelling.

I was at the uber-exciting re-opening of Les Miz last night, and this classic musical, now about the pivotal age of 30, is back on Broadway, moving people all over again.  (I’ve had my Complete Symphonic Recording (my favorite) on repeat since I woke up this morning – get it if you don’t have it, cuz it’s awesome hearing all the sung scenes between the songs.)

And yes, the new production is terrific, thanks to the velvety-voiced Ramin Karimloo, and the bravura confidence the production has about itself.  It’s as if it’s saying, “We came.  We saw.  And we’re kicking ass again.”  (When you see the production, you’ll get a sense of this in the rock concert like moment after the Prologue.)

But this blog isn’t a review.  It’s a question.

Les Miz forever changed the look of musicals when it debuted in the mid 80’s.  It was sung-thru.  It was serious.  Yet it broke through to the masses, became a part of pop culture and defined what a Broadway musical was for years.

It even inspired a ton of people to write, to act, and to forget their LA Law dreams about becoming a lawyer and to pursue any career in the theater instead (yep, talking about me again).

A whole slew of musicals immediately followed it that were similar, including some by the same authors (Miss Saigon), as well as Sir Andrew and more.

But after about a decade of “poperas,” and around the time that Rent rolled into town, audience tastes shifted, and the giant, spectacle driven historical musicals of the 80’s were no more.

And that was the trend until the 9/11 era, when we went back to good ol’ musical comedy to take us away from reality, thanks to shows like The Producers and Mamma Mia, which birthed The Jukebox Generation.

And that’s the age that I still think we’re in:  people going to musicals for a good ol’ fashioned, rip-roarin’ good time.

But then along comes Les Miz again, which ain’t exactly a knee slapper.

But despite Les Miz not being what I believe is the type of show that is in ‘fashion’ with audiences, it’s doing a million bucks a week, got a great set of notices, and I hear has a barricade-sized advance.

So, my question is . . . could the success of this show once again be the tipping point of the next age of musical theater style?  Will seeing Les Miz excite audiences to see shows with more serious fare?  Will they once again embrace the idea of the sung-thru show?   Will the next generation of almost-gonna-be-lawyers start looking to Arts Universities instead?  Will they start looking at other 1,000 page novels to adapt?  (On a side note – has anyone noticed that two of the longest running musicals of all time take place in Paris, and also both have scenes under Paris?).

Hmmmm .  . . I don’t know.

But I do expect this Les Miz to run for some time.  And I’d also bet that Sir Cameron has The Broadway Theater locked up for a revival of Miss Saigon in just a year or two.  And Phantom will be up for a revival in . . . oh wait, that sucker is still running.

So yeah, look out musical theater.  You could be changing once again.

But don’t worry, you’ve been here before.

(Oh and I have to give a big shout out to last night’s Gavroche, Gaten Matarazzo, my Jesus from The Godspell Cast of 2032!  Don’t remember that?  Click here to watch.)


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.