In attempting to describe the unrivalled success of Les Misérables over the past 30 years, there’s a real risk of running out of superlatives. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s musical based on Victor Hugo’s great novel about the struggle towards redemption of a group of characters in early 19th century France is one of the best-known and loved musicals the world over and has the added distinction of being the longest-running West End musical.
‘One of the questions I get asked all the time is why the show has been so successful,’ says John Owen-Jones, who plays the show’s central protagonist Jean Valjean as part of the London production’s 25th anniversary tour. ‘Obviously everyone loves the music, the costumes, the set design and so on, but the thing that has made it so popular is the story. It’s about love, redemption, despair, and everyone can relate to aspects of the story and the characters. In French schools, obviously, it’s studied as a set text, and I think when people come to see our show they feel like they’re getting a bit of culture as well as being entertained.’
Owen-Jones can lay claim to the title of the youngest Valjean in the show’s history (he first played the role at the age of 26) and was once voted ‘Best Ever Jean Valjean’ by fans in an online poll. ‘I’ve performed it thousands of times and I always get something different out of it,’ he says. ‘Physically and emotionally it’s a very demanding role; I’m on stage all the time and I start at full tilt. But I love the fact that I’ve got such a great role to get my teeth into.’
Playhouse, Edinburgh, Tue 20 Apr–Sat 15 May