You know? These past few weeks have been fun as a Les Mis fan. We’ve had the enjoyable BBC miniseries airing every Sunday. I’ve been rereading parts of the Brick and listening to the musical’s various cast recordings nonstop. Hugh Jackman’s world tour concert is coming to my city in June, and I’ve been readily preparing myself for possibly one of the most exciting events of my life. I haven’t felt this giddy about Les Mis since...well, probably since the 2012 film came out.
But, of course, all good things must come to an end, and the thrilling parade must be destroyed by a flood-inducing storm. Who is that storm? Cameron Mackintosh.
I’m sure five out of the six people reading this article are already aware, but for those who haven’t heard the news, the original London production of Les Misérables, the one that’s been running for over thirty years, the one that’s become an iconic staple in the West End as the longest-running musical, is going to go on a “hiatus” this July and be replaced with the staging from the recent tour and Broadway revival.
I’m sorry. What?
Don’t get me wrong...I enjoy the new staging. I’ve actually seen it three times: twice on tour, and once on Broadway. I even wrote a positive review on the Board of my recent experience with the production back in September. It’s a good production with many enjoyable changes that elevate the material to a different plane.
But how can Mackintosh justify erasing the stunning original? The production running in London now is the only remaining English-speaking production that uses the old staging, and its very existence arguably works as a tourist attraction for London much in the same way that the Broadway production of Phantom doubles as a tourist attraction for New York City. Rumors are circulating that Mackintosh is making this decision in order to avoid paying royalties to the original staging’s original creative team, and that, while making sense, just reads as heartlessly greedy to me.
Les Mis in its original London form is an important piece of theatre. It was one of the big, splashy productions of the 80’s to revolutionize the “mega musical” genre that we currently enjoy in modern classics like Wicked and The Lion King. It’s largely to the merits of the old staging that Les Mis ended up becoming one of the most successful and iconic titles in the musical theatre canon, and it’s the magic of that original staging that kept audiences coming back for more and, eventually, warranted two concerts and a film adaptation that brought even more fans to the musical theatre world. Ending this production in order to make an extra buck (as if Cameron Mackintosh of all people needs the extra money!) is sleazy. It’s disrespectful to the countless people who worked on it, and it even comes across as a bit of a middle finger to the loyal fans of the past decades who, out of love for a musical that they hold dear to their hearts, supported the London production time and time again.
I understand that all shows eventually must close, but the issue in this case is that the production isn’t ending out of necessity. The show isn’t losing money; it’s still bringing in packed seats to this day. This decision isn’t being made because audiences aren’t enjoying the show anymore, but rather because Cameron Mackintosh has embarked on an ego trip where he can disregard the hard work of others that made this musical into the juggernaut it is today and push forward his cheaper, less successful alternative. Imagine if he did the same thing to Phantom someday?
We’ll always have the memories of the old staging to live by, but it’s just a shame that the production has to end this way. Part of me wonders how long the show will run once people catch on to the fact that they’re not seeing the “brilliant original.” Maybe it will be successful! But a large part of me is worried that the show will only last a few more years before being forced to close indefinitely. Then, we won’t have Les Mis playing in either of the two “big theatre cities” anymore.
And, for a show that was widely successful and financially had no reason to end in the first place? That would just be heartbreaking.
(Image by Michael Le Poer Trench)