I love musicals. I really love big, sweeping, dramatical ones that capture your attention and make you live the story. So the first time I saw “Les Miz” on VHS, I fell in love – with the story, the music, the cast, all of it.

Since there were several versions of the CD available at the local Best Buy, I decided to try out a couple of versions from the local library, where you can check out CDs for 2 weeks. I did listen the one they had to check out, and liked it (although, if you have ever borrowed CDs from the library, they are not in the best shape and I suffered “skips” and loops on a couple of songs that are still embedded in my memory). Since Christmas was coming soon and my husband never can figure out what to get me, I told him to get me the Les Miz CD.

He did not get me the version I requested…but that is a good thing.

Being the good guy he is (and having our teen-aged daughter along to help him out), he asked the guy at BB which version was the best. No surprise to those who have heard it, it was the Complete Symphonic Recording you see here.

This 3-set CD has not left my CD player (in my car) since then. I did listen to it several times at home over Christmas vacation, but couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard it in my car in the last 3 months. The performers are tops – not an amateur in the bunch, and the presentation is flawless. Another plus is the booklet with the entire script. Believe it or not, I actually read along the first couple of times I listened to the CD to help cement the story line in my mind.

It can be a bit confusing – in a nutshell there are several inter-twining stories.

Jean Val Jean (prisoner 24601) is a former convict who hides out as the mayor of a French town, a businessman and is chased by the self-righteous policeman Javert. Javert is consumed by his obsession to capture 24601 and pursues him throughout the entire program (until he throws himself in a river in a fit of remorse).

Fantine is a single mother who works in Val Jean’s factory, but after being fired by Val Jean’s staff, is forced out on the streets to become a prostitute. She’s ill and dies early in disc one, but has a lovely part. (I dare you not to weep during Fantine’s I Dreamed a Dream.) Fantine’s daughter Cosette has been cared for by the Thenardier’s: a classy couple (ha) who run an eating/drinking establishment, try to screw everyone they can out of every penny they have, and are just about the scum of the earth. After Fantine’s death, the guilt-ridden Val Jean (he feels he’s responsible for Fantine’s death and vows to care for her daughter), rescues her from the T’s.

While the Thenardier’s are basically bad guys (they rob, they pillage dead bodies, etc.,), you have to laugh at them. The catchy little tune “Master of the House” makes me giggle (Madame T speaking on her husband: “Master of the House…thinks he’s quite a lover, but there’s not much there…”), and actually had my country-loving husband tapping his foot. Their daughter, Eponine, has a heart of gold and is in love with Marius, who just happens to be in love with Cosette. Add into this the French Revolution, all of the students who build a barricade, and you have quite a story, set to exquisite music.

It’s interesting to note that Eponine in this CD is performed by a Japanese singer (Kaho Shimada). Listening to the CD, and the depth of her emotion, you would never suspect English was not her native language. On My Own, a song speaking to Eponine’s unrequited love for Marius, will move you every time you hear it. One of the most beautiful, yet understated pieces is a trio between Eponine, Marius, and Cosette (A Heart Full of Love). The melding of voices, passions, and orchestration is nearly perfect.

Keep in mind that almost everyone dies by the end of the program; some of them do get to come back (Fantine returns to claim Jean Val Jean as he dies and goes to heaven), but hey, it’s the revolution and there was a lot of disease and war back in those days. The closing anthem (When Tomorrow Comes), is heard throughout the program with several adaptations of the words, and finally brings players together in a celebration of life and politics (“Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?”).

It’s a winner, spend the cash, worth every penny. Now I just have to convince my husband to buy tickets the next time the live production makes it out our direction!

–L. Kvigne